Dettah’s fire hall could solve the ongoing dispute over how to provide fire services to residents on the Ingraham Trail, two of the territory’s politicians believe.
Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn, who represents Dettah, on Tuesday suggested community leaders were eager to pursue the idea if the NWT government was prepared to invest in equipment and training.
Norn argued handing responsibility to Dettah’s fire hall would not only ensure fire coverage for the Ingraham Trail, but also allow both Dettah and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) to develop and become more self-sufficient.
He referred to it as striking “two birds with one stone.”
Fire coverage for the trail is needed because the City of Yellowknife recently voted to cease offering such coverage from April 1, 2021.
The city decided its previous, informal agreement to cover homes on the Ingraham Trail – another name for the highway north of Yellowknife, home to several hundred people – could mean placing residents of the city in jeopardy.
Officials gave the example of a fire breaking out within city limits while crews were already tackling a fire dozens of kilometres away on the trail, stretching resources.
Norn said letting Dettah take over would be a “win-win for all parties involved.”
“Cost is always a consideration. What I do know is that building on what we already have in place is far more cost-efficient than starting from scratch,” he said.
“I urge our government to work with all the relevant departments on this, along with YKDFN and the City of Yellowknife, to make this idea a reality.”
The territorial government is under pressure to come up with a new solution for the trail’s residents before April arrives.
Privately, officials at the territory’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs – which is responsible for finding that solution – believe Norn’s suggestion could take years to implement and cost money the territory doesn’t have as it fights the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even so, Norn’s plan has support among other interested parties.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who represents residents on the trail, backed Norn’s suggestion in the legislature on Tuesday.
Johnson has already implored the city not to halt its services and, when that failed, suggested turning the Ingraham Trail into a hamlet to unlock millions of dollars in territorial funding. (In practice, that would almost certainly mean taking money from other communities.)
Johnson said Norn’s plan made more sense than Yellowknife covering the trail.
“The risk profile of a fire occurring in Dettah and the Ingraham Trail at the same time is much lower than a fire occurring in Yellowknife and the Ingraham Trail,” he said.
Johnson again thanked Norn for being “resourceful and cooperative” in a Facebook post and said the idea is “an example of the kind of cooperative spirit I hope to see more of in this assembly.”
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby has suggested acquiring versatile fire rescue equipment that can be used both at regional airports and for highway emergencies outside communities.
Asked by Norn if she would explore the idea of using Dettah’s fire hall, Paulie Chinna – the minister responsible – said her department was discussing the possibility with YKDFN.
Chinna would not commit to contracting coverage of the trail to Dettah, saying the situation “is complex” and noting financial constraints.
“Right now, I cannot commit to offering further services, but I would like to look at the enhancement that is currently offered in Dettah,” she said, “and at what we can do to provide adequate equipment and services for that community to respond to fires within that area.”