Community Services Minister John Streicker has indicated he will support an independent public inquiry into fire protection in small communities like Keno City.
In a Dec. 15 interview, Allan Koprowsky, the assistant deputy minister for protective services, said the minister had stated his support for such an inquiry though details on how that would happen still need to be worked out.
A group of Keno City residents in the 24-person community called for the independent public inquiry into the lack of fire protection in the community in a Dec. 14 letter following the Dec. 11 fire that destroyed the Keno City Hotel.
In the Dec. 14 open letter to Premier Sandy Silver, Streicker, Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon, NDP leader Kate White, Mayo-Tachun MLA Don Hutton and Yukon Fire Marshal James Paterson, the Keno City Residents Council recalled efforts to talk with the Yukon government about fire service in the community after the fire marshal’s office removed the fire truck from Keno in April 2019. The water reservoir tank in the fire/water building in the community was also removed and the building housing the water truck and firefighting protective equipment was also locked and keys unavailable to residents, it was noted.
“Despite our best efforts in this dialogue with the Yukon government, not only have we not gained any further services or assistance in Keno, but we have lost and continue to lose critical services which has and continues to diminish our capacity in town,” the Keno City residents council stated in the letter. “This loss of capacity reached a heart-breaking climax in Keno City on Friday night, December 11, 2020, as the residents watched fire consume the historic Keno City Hotel.”
The lack of firefighting capability in Keno meant residents were left using their own fire extinguishers and garden hoses to keep the fire from spreading to other nearby buildings while they waited for water trucks to come in from Alexco Resources and the nearest volunteer fire department in Mayo.
“After using the water supply in the Mayo fire truck and the Alexco water truck, Mayo firemen asked for access to the full water truck in the Keno building,” reads the letter. “Locals advised them that we had no key to the building and Mayo Fire were not prepared to force the door for more water. Luckily the fire was burning itself out by then.
“Simply put, it was a very dangerous situation in which Keno City had no equipment and no support from the government. We got extremely lucky no one was in the hotel and there was little or no wind that night or much more of the town would have burned. We understand that we are not the only community where fire protection has been completely withdrawn by the Yukon government.”
The letter goes on to argue for the independent public inquiry over the lack of fire protection in Yukon communities “before someone dies or is horribly injured.”
“We shall not rest until Keno City has an acceptable level of fire response and protection.”
The issue has continued to come up in the legislature as recently as Nov. 17, when White questioned Streicker about it. Streicker emphasized volunteers trained to use the equipment are needed. As of late summer, the government still had not received any completed registration packages for volunteers, he said.
“Again, all love to Keno, but in order for us to get them equipment for people to operate safely and be trained for, then we need those volunteers,” Streicker said.
Koprowsky said the Keno community has been without a volunteer fire department since 2012.
With no active members for a number of years, the fire truck that was in the community was removed and subsequently deemed unserviceable, he said.
Koprowsky said while the territory provides training to volunteer firefighters who pass a basic screening, a community needs at least six members to have a volunteer department, which would ensure there’s enough members to deal with firefighting, provide backup and operate the equipment.
“It’s a challenge in a community of only a couple of dozen people,” he said, acknowledging there are a couple of other Yukon communities dealing with similar challenges.
He stressed the importance of volunteer firefighters being able to safely operate equipment before it can be provided to a community, pointing out that there are a number of occupational health and safety regulations that must be met.
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