The heartbreaking loss of life resulting from house fires has left a particular impact on many Indigenous communities—a tragedy that Archdeacon Sidney Black knows only too well.
Growing up on a small farm in Siksika Nation in southern Alberta, Black—currently co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples—was in his mid-teens on the autumn night when, preparing to retire to bed, he looked out the window of the room he shared with his brother and saw an orange glow over the horizon, past a small hill adjacent to the family farm.
Struck by the unusual sight, the brothers left the house to investigate and realized upon reaching the top of the hill that their neighbour’s house was on fire. The blaze, which had been caused by a coal-burning wood stove, took place while the parents were away with their children left at home by themselves.
Sadly, all five children died in the flames.
“That’s still a profound memory for me … I still remember those young children that perished in a fire,” Black said. “I can still remember the cries of the parents and the relatives who were trying to get into a house that’s already a full-blown fire to rescue their kids.”
By purchasing a gift through the 2016 Gifts for Mission gift guide, Canadian Anglicans can help prevent future tragedies and provide a safe house for a family. Each $40 gift will equip a home with a battery-operated smoke detector that can offer a family safety and peace of mind through protection against the threat of fire.
Housing fire statistics from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation indicate that the First Nations per capita fire incidence rate is 2.4 times higher than the rate for the rest of Canada. Meanwhile, the fire injury rate is 2.5 times greater, the fire damage per unit rate 1.7 times, and the fire death rate a staggering 10.4 times higher than the Canada-wide figure.
Factors contributing to the disparity include the remote location of many rural communities; crowded conditions in households that lead to higher fire death rates; and prevalent use of wood stoves, which—as in non-Indigenous communities—are often poorly maintained or incorrectly installed. But perhaps the most preventable cause is a relatively low number of smoke detectors in many Indigenous communities.
Black has seen first-hand the lack of smoke detectors in some Indigenous households. Isolated and northern communities, where a lack of local building materials and high transportation costs has long made construction of adequate housing prohibitively expensive, are particularly at risk.
“Some of the places I’ve been at visiting, especially the older houses—to my knowledge, I don’t see smoke detectors in the homes,” Black said, though he believed many newer houses under construction were more likely to comply with prevalent safety codes.
By helping purchase smoke detectors, Black believes that Anglicans can make a big difference in helping protect families from fire.
“I think that’s a generous kind of a thing for the church to be doing—because in the end, it saves lives.”
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