Amber Smith/Submitted A home burns in Keno City on Feb. 10. This was the second building to be destroyed by fire in the community this winter. Following the two fires in Keno, the Yukon government has put out a request for proposals for a full review of rural fire service in the Yukon.

Amber Smith/Submitted A home burns in Keno City on Feb. 10. This was the second building to be destroyed by fire in the community this winter. Following the two fires in Keno, the Yukon government has put out a request for proposals for a full review of rural fire service in the Yukon.

Yukon government plans to review rural fire services after Keno incidents

“We are hopeful that this independent review will lead to some real, tangible solutions”

Following two fires in Keno, the Yukon government has put out a request for proposals for a full review of rural fire service in the Yukon.

The government said it plans to hire the contractor by April and complete the full review by the fall of 2021.

The RFP calls for a “review of Yukon Fire Marshal’s Office fire suppression and rescue resources distribution” and notes that rural fire services are a challenge “where communities are rural and remote, and populations are small.”

Background information provided in the documents notes that “declining volunteer levels is an issue across Yukon” and “volunteer staffing levels frequently decrease to the point that fire halls become functionally inactive.”

“Small communities and vast distances make structural fire suppression in rural Yukon uniquely challenging,” said Community Services Minister John Streicker in a statement.

“We are hopeful that this independent review will lead to some real, tangible solutions that will help inform fire service delivery and standards to benefit Yukoners across the territory. We look forward to communities like Keno sharing their perspectives on this review,” he said.

On Dec. 11, 2020, a fire destroyed the historic Keno City hotel. Then two months later, another fire destroyed the home of Andy Page in the same community. No one was injured in either fire.

The community does not have a functioning well, fire truck or trained volunteers to respond to fires right now.

Streicker has said the community does not have enough willing volunteers. Organizers in Keno said that there are willing volunteers — the community has had volunteer fire crews in the past — but a process to getting trained and certified that includes doctors assessments, paperwork, criminal background checks and travel to other communities is discouraging people.

“The whole system that they have in place for fire protection in communities is fundamentally flawed. Which is why we have asked for an independent investigation, not only into what’s happening in Keno, but to other unincorporated communities,” said Amber Smith, a member of the Keno City Residents Council, on Feb. 13 following the fire.

The Community Services department has said that for safety reasons, the criteria for training and recruiting volunteer firefighters cannot be easily modified.

The purpose of the review is to identify successes, challenges and solutions by comparing the Yukon’s current system to the way other jurisdictions provide services. The external review will look at rural best practices and programs in other Canadian provinces and territories.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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