The Northwest Territories has a new fire marshal. Craig Halifax, a former Yellowknife firefighter, took on the role a month ago.
Halifax replaces Chucker Dewar in the post, which leads investigations into the causes of fires, supports community firefighting, and plays a key role in the planning and inspection of buildings.
He was born and raised in the NWT, joining Yellowknife’s fire hall in 1999, and returns to the territory having spent the past 14 years in Alberta. He served for almost a decade as the fire chief in Kananaskis, west of Calgary.
Halifax said his priorities are strengthening public education around fire safety in the territory and finding ways to better support firefighting in smaller communities, where resources and volunteer fire crew members can be hard to come by.
“I’ve worked in the North, I’ve travelled through the North, I’ve conducted fire training over the years and in various communities, and I see the potential there,” he told Cabin Radio.
“But I know it’s difficult. I come in eyes wide open to that.”
From March 2022: GNWT looks to give fire marshal’s office ‘additional capacity’
Below, read our interview with Halifax about his appointment to the post.
This interview was recorded on January 10, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born and raised in Yellowknife. I left about 14 years ago and moved south, and things came full circle and the job opportunity presented itself to come back to Yellowknife as the NWT fire marshal. In discussion with the family, we wanted to be back here at some point – our kids were born here. So it was an ideal situation.
You were a firefighter in Yellowknife before you left. How does that job differ in the North compared to elsewhere?
The weather always comes into play. Cold-weather firefighting in -40C is a lot different than it is at the plus temperatures that quite often you see in Alberta, that I worked in for a number of years. Another thing that we find in my role now, as the fire marshal, is we work with a lot of the communities where there are really limited resources. Volunteerism is tough – to get people out and really staff those fire departments – so part of my job, and what I’m excited coming into, is working with those communities, building up those partnerships, and really finding ways that we can bolster the work they’re doing and provide them the support they need to provide a critical service. Sometimes people don’t see it as needed until after the fact, until they have a big fire. And then the questions arise about fire departments at that point.
How do you explain your job to people?
It’s not an operational position. I don’t get on a fire truck. It’s more administrative and regulatory in nature, but some of the core business that we do is around fire investigations. That’s one of the primary pieces of work that we do, whether it’s here in Yellowknife or the assistant fire marshals out in the regions. Any significant fire in the Northwest Territories, whether it’s fatality or injury, high dollar loss or critical infrastructure, we will send someone out and investigate, work with the local fire department and potentially RCMP, and go through that process.
Another item is inspections. There are a number of inspections that are required on a certain cycle. I’m fairly new in the role so I’m still learning all the pieces of that cycle and how we prioritize. Also done out of the Office of the Fire Marshal is plan review. Building plans are submitted for commercial structures or large structures that are being built within the Northwest Territories. They come into our office and we have a chief code compliance engineer that reviews those and provides recommendations to those companies, contractors and architects on what needs to be done to be compliant with the building and fire codes that we’re utilizing here.
What priorities do you have coming into this job?
There’s the day-to-day business that we have to do – I mentioned plan reviews, inspections and investigations as they come up – but from my personal perspective, I’d like to build those community partnerships and those connections. The primary job of Maca is to support communities, so I really want to be a part of that.
I’ve worked in the North, I’ve travelled through the North, I’ve conducted fire training over the years and in various communities, and I see the potential there. But I know it’s difficult. I come in eyes wide open to that. So I really want to work with the local fire chiefs, the local councils on how to bolster their services and provide a service to the residents of the NWT.
Another priority is around public education. Quite often, we see that Fire Prevention Week happens in October and there’s a lot of hubbub for a week, and then it’s pretty quiet unless something big happens. What I would really like to do is look at the different technology available to us in this day and age to reach out to communities, to reach out to the residents not just with pamphlets or posters that get put up every once in a while. After the past few years of pandemic, people are used to utilizing virtual opportunities. I think that is something that we need to investigate as a better way, or another way to get our message out there on key fire safety priorities.