At 6 a.m. on May 18th, Harvey Kassi just happened to look out the window.
That’s when the Old Crow resident saw smoke billowing from his neighbour’s house.
She was running toward him with her two-year-old son.
“I let them in and made sure they were OK,” said Kassi.
Then, he fired up his ATV and roared to the nearest pull station to sound the village alarm.
“I pulled it, but nothing happened,” he said.
Kassi headed to the fire chief’s house.
On the way, he asked another resident to try sounding the alarm from an alternate pull station.
It didn’t work.
And neither did the fire truck.
“A fuse burnt out while we were trying to fight the fire,” said deputy chief Roger Kyikavichik.
The fuse ran the power to the pump.
“It’s lucky no lives were lost,” said Kassi.
This isn’t the first time the fire truck failed, added Kyikavichik.
“It gave up on us in the past.”
Because the pump and hoses are exposed under the truck, they tend to freeze up in the cold weather, he said.
The truck is 18 years old, said fire marshal Marty Dobbin.
“But that’s not an old truck in the fire business,” he said, citing Beaver Creek’s 1982 truck and Destruction Bay’s 1990 pumper.
Old Crow’s manual pull stations are a different story.
The stations have been around since the 1960s, said Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias.
“And it’s important that these work because that’s how people get together and save lives.”
Much like an air-raid-siren system, the pull stations set off an alarm that sounds throughout the village.
“Nobody told the community (the pull stations) were inoperable,” said Elias.
“Lives are at stake here.”
When Old Crow residents hear the sirens, they know to meet at the RCMP station, he said.
“People stop what they’re doing and go help.”
It’s old technology, said Dobbin.
And it’s not easy to fix.
“Because of the age of the system we’ve had trouble finding parts to maintain it,” he added.
“Technicians go up and fix it and it’s only a matter of days until it has problems again.”
After the May 18th fire, Dobbin flew to Old Crow and met with its executive council.
“We tried to determine their needs and have staff researching what technology is available,” he said.
Pull systems in North America have been largely replaced by telephone technology.
And this may be Old Crow’s only option, said Dobbin.
But Old Crow wants to keep its siren system, said Elias.
It allows people to hear it throughout the community.
“It’s the government’s responsibility to give us a working truck and train the volunteer (fire fighters),” said Kyikavichik.
“And the last couple years it’s been difficult to get training and difficult to recruit guys.”
“It’s the community’s responsibility to recruit the volunteers, and my office provide the training,” said Dobbin.
Currently, Old Crow has no volunteer firefighters.
Volunteer fire departments usually train twice a month, and put the truck in pump gear, said Dobbin.
“And if they’d been training they would have discovered the fuse.
“It’s a small problem that could create a large problem.”
During Monday’s Question Period, Elias raised his concern about Old Crow’s outdated equipment.
“The First Nation has been advised that firefighter recruitment is their responsibility,” said Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon.
Kenyon isn’t accepting responsibility for Old Crow’s problems, said Elias.
“He’s blaming everyone else and talking about people not showing up for training.
“But we’ve got 1960s equipment and this isn’t just about volunteer firefighters, it’s about emergency preparedness for the town.
“Every problem in the territory seems to be everyone else’s fault."