First Nations Fire Protection Strategy, 2023 to 2028

Table of contents

Message from the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada

First Nations are disproportionately impacted by structural fires and wildfires. While challenges in recruiting and retaining firefighters and maintaining adequate infrastructure are not unique to First Nations, the lack of a regulatory regime for building and fire codes, coupled with poor housing conditions and overcrowded housing, means that there are far too many First Nation lives lost to fires.

The increasing threat of wildland-urban interface fires due to climate change increases the challenges facing communities, especially First Nations, most vulnerable due to their remote and coastal locations and reliance on natural ecosystems.

Fire protection is about more than trucks and halls. It is about providing education, prevention measures and working smoke alarms. It is also about adequate housing, water supply and safe heating appliances.

There is no simple fix to improving First Nations' fire outcomes. I heard this when I participated in working group sessions and I continue to hear it first hand from First Nations. I also heard that insufficient funding for fire fighters and community fire prevention officers creates challenges in delivering prevention and education programs, recruiting and retaining firefighters and maintaining adequate infrastructure.

The strategic objectives of this strategy set out a path to improve fire outcomes for First Nations. These long and short term actions, such as improving compliance to building codes and increasing inspections for all on-reserve buildings, will save lives.

Thank you to all of the individuals and organizations who participated in the development of this strategy and for lending your expertise in fire protection. I will continue to advocate for resources to support the implementation of this strategy and ask that First Nation individuals, First Nations, regional and national technical organizations do what they can to implement the respective strategic objectives of this strategy. Lives depend on it.

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Indigenous Services

Message from the Assembly of First Nations

This strategy will support a decrease in the national rate of First Nations fire incidents, improve fire response time, and address deficient infrastructure issues that impede emergency response on-reserve.

Currently, Ontario First Nations children aged 0 to 9 years are 86 times greater than non-First Nations children to die in a fire (Ontario Chief Coroner's Table on Understanding Fire Deaths in First Nations, 2019).

Nationally, First Nations are approximately 10 times more likely to die in a fire than non-First Nations persons (Statistics Canada, Mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit: Findings from the 2011 Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohort, 2021).

To immediately reduce the statistical risks of death by fire in First Nation communities to be comparable, or lower, than their respective national and regional averages for non-First Nations, the AFN believes that:


The Joint First Nations Fire Protection Strategy was first established in 2010 in collaboration with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) to promote fire protection on reserve. In 2022, AFAC became the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council. The strategy was refined and updated in 2015 to span the years 2016 to 2021. This newest iteration of the strategy, 2023 to 2028, was co-developed by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). It builds upon the previous strategy while adding some additional priorities to align with modern fire safety challenges facing First Nations today.

While the 4 pillars in the previous strategy still represent an effective framework to address fire protection for First Nations, this new strategy provides 2 further pillars and corresponding strategic goals to improve fire prevention measures for First Nations. With the increasing awareness of the effect of climate change on emergency and disaster management, a fifth pillar has been added to specifically address climate risks. A sixth pillar includes critical infrastructure to support fire protection and fire departments while promoting modern technology to plan, track and manage fire prevention progress.

A critical element of the revised strategy is the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Sendai Framework and its priorities to link fire protection strategies to the larger realm of emergency management. Key elements of the framework that create opportunity for First Nations are the concepts of an all-of-society approach and recognition of cultural resilience by protecting community infrastructure and building assets.

The previous strategy focused entirely on fire protection risks and priorities on reserve. The 2023 to 2028 strategy introduces objectives that can enhance fire safety for First Nations people living off reserve through partnerships with local governments, First Nations technical organizations and nearby First Nations.


The Joint First Nations Fire Protection Strategy, 2016 to 2021 concluded on March 31, 2021. The renewed strategy sets out a vision of priorities and identifies specific goals for the period of 2023 to 2028. It is intended to better inform program policy and guide federal investments to promote fire protection on reserve, and to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries as well as infrastructure losses.

The strategy was co-developed by the AFN, the national organization representing First Nations people in Canada and ISC. The AFN engaged the First Nations Emergency Services Society of British Columbia to update the strategy through a combination of research surveys, engagement sessions and First Nation fire chief reviews. The latest strategy was informed by input from First Nation technical organizations, tribal councils, First Nation leadership, and fire service professionals.

The provision of funding for First Nation infrastructure is based upon the Government of Canada's spending power as a matter of social policy. ISC allocates funding for community infrastructure on a year-to-year basis. Core and capital operations and maintenance funding is provided annually. It is determined by regionally based formulas and considers factors such as the number of buildings on reserve, remoteness, population and environment. Chief and council manage fire protection services on reserves and allocate funding according to their own priorities and specific needs. Targeted funding for infrastructure, such as fire trucks and fire stations, is allocated on a national priority basis and competes with other First Nations Infrastructure Fund projects.

The strategy outlines priorities and specific goals under 6 pillars:

  1. Partnership for First Nations fire protection
  2. Fire prevention education
  3. Community standards
  4. Fire service operational standards
  5. Climate change
  6. Critical infrastructure

Also included in the strategy is the following appendix:


The purpose of this strategy is to improve fire and life safety for all First Nations through a series of strategic objectives. Some of the pillars are already in progress and have well established funding streams, while some areas require renewed attention and improved funding.

Currently, there are a few formal programs and funding initiatives available to achieve these objectives. Work is being done to formalize more programs and funds for First Nation fire protection measures on reserve across all of Canada. It is understood that some objectives may not be achieved within their recommended timelines, but they remain as pressing goals to pursue in the interest of enhancing First Nations fire and life safety. The overall purpose of these objectives is to promote and inform fire and life safety initiatives and encourage all partners, funders, and stakeholders to implement them.

1. Partnership for First Nations fire protection

First Nations fire safety initiatives are well supported by a wide array of First Nations and non-First Nations organizations and associations at the federal, provincial, territorial and local level.

Several provinces have First Nations-led technical organizations, such as the First Nations Emergency Services Society in British Columbia, which provide access to fire safety training and prevention resources to First Nations. The purpose of these initiatives is to promote and support:

  • collaboration with First Nations technical organizations and provincial, territorial and federal organizations:
    • First Nations should seek support and partnerships from their provincial or territorial First Nations fire safety associations and organizations where they exist. Where such agencies do not exist, support can be acquired through the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council
  • networking and supporting local and regional fire prevention champions:
    • Fire safety champions, at the local and regional levels, should engage and partner with provincial fire prevention officer associations, which provide access to non-First Nations fire prevention leaders and their programs
  • showcasing and sharing successful fire safety programs with First Nations:
    • Many First Nations, regions and technical groups develop and implement world class fire protection programs that should be archived and made available through a centralized library
  • enhancing fire safety for First Nations peoples living off reserve:
    • First Nations people living off reserve should have access to fire safety educational programs, smoke alarms and home fire safety assessments through partnerships with local governments, First Nations technical organizations and nearby First Nations

Strategic objective 1A: Local and regional fire safety champions should participate in provincial and national Fire Chief and Fire Prevention Officer Associations.

Strategic objective 1B: First Nations should establish a process to make on-reserve fire safety education, fire assessment tools and smoke alarm programs available to off-reserve members at their local First Nation by 2024.

2. Fire prevention education

Fire prevention education is by far the most efficient and effective measure to enhance fire safety. Preventing the incident from occurring in the first place is the best solution. The next solution is educating people on what to do if a fire occurs, with tools like a fire escape plan or building fire safety plan. The final line of defence is the provision of the highest achievable level of fire response. This includes:

  • Promoting fire prevention programs nationally
    • Wherever good fire programs are developed, they should be shared and promoted nationally. Assembly of First Nations, National Indigenous Fire Safety Council and the First Nations technical organizations should collaborate to build and promote First Nations fire safety initiatives as well as support non-First Nations initiatives like the Government of Canada Fire Safety Week and other provincial programs
  • Supporting elected officials in adopting fire safety initiatives at administrative level
    • Promoting fire safety at the chief and council level is crucial to developing a fire safety culture. Leaders who understand the importance of fire safety will promote good programs and ensure appropriate funding is allocated
  • Educating and supporting local and regional fire safety manager
    • First Nations that have identified a fire safety manager see the best results in building and maintaining effective fire safety programs
    • Smaller First Nations may not be able to support their own fire safety manager so regional fire safety coordinators should be established to ensure they have the same level of focus on fire safety

Strategic objective 2A: Chief and council should attend a fire protection governance workshop available through either their nearest First Nations technical organization or at various fire safety conferences by 2024.

Strategic objective 2B: First Nations should appoint a local or regional fire emergency coordinator, First Nation fire chief, or fire safety manager by 2024.

3. Community standards

Promoting and implementing community standards will have a direct impact on fire safety in First Nations. In most cases national or provincial standards exist that can be applied to First Nations. Establishing standards supports funding initiatives to ensure the standards are met.

  • Supporting First Nations governance in the adoption and enforcement of building, infrastructure, and fire prevention standards
    • Establishing standards for critical infrastructure and fire protection can be a very complex procedure given the diversity within First Nations across Canada
    • National standards should be adopted wherever possible, and chiefs and council should be supported in their efforts to evaluate and implement local and provincial standards where a national standard does not exist or does not suit the needs for the First Nation
    • Once implemented, these standards require a system to inspect and enforce compliance by First Nations members and contractors. While these standards are in place for ISC-funded projects, the use of codes and standards should be expanded to include all on-reserve projects
  • Supporting First Nations updating and maintaining existing facilities to standards
    • Once standards are established, First Nations should plan toward upgrading existing assets for compliance
    • New homes should be constructed with hard-wired smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
    • Battery operated smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be installed and maintained in every existing home
  • Supporting First Nations in the development of fire protection bylaws and band council resolutions
    • Standards should be adopted and supported by chief and council.
    • Many First Nations technical organizations have standardized bylaws and band council resolutions that can be modified for a specific First Nation
  • Supporting First Nations in the development of official community plans that include fire safety considerations
    • Official community plans present opportunities to consider fire and disaster risk reduction in their development
    • Considerations such as fire breaks for wildfires, constructing buildings and critical infrastructure away from natural hazards and protecting culturally sensitive lands, can all be enhanced through effective planning
    • FireSmart Canada is a lead organization providing guidance for wildfire risk reduction and vegetation management through provincial branches
  • Supporting First Nations in acquiring fire insurance and enhance fire underwriter survey grading
    • Fire insurance rates are driven by the level of fire protection within a First Nation. Critical factors include water supply, fire department and emergency communications
    • Deficient critical infrastructure services impede First Nations from obtaining proper fire insurance
    • These rates can often be improved through adjusting any one factor to increase the fire underwriter survey grading and reduce fire insurance costs
  • Supporting evidence-based decision making on First Nations fire protection issues through the implementation of a national incident data base
    • Fire data around fire incidents occurring in First Nations has traditionally been very poor
    • The development of a national database is in progress; when completed, it has the potential to drive decisions that will increase fire safety
    • It is critical that First Nations leaders adopt and support fire reporting

Strategic objective 3A: First Nations should ensure every on-reserve home has a working smoke and carbon monoxide alarm in rooms as required by the applicable building code by 2025 and implement a maintenance replacement plan by 2026.

Strategic objective 3B: First Nations that cannot maintain fire suppression services through a fire department or a municipal type service agreement (MTSA) should adopt a national home fire sprinkler standard for all new home construction in First Nations with adequate water supplies by 2026.

Strategic objective 3C: First Nations should acquire insurance for band-owned homes and buildings for fire by 2025.

4. Fire service operational standards

In First Nations where fire services are provided either by a First Nations fire department or through agreement with a neighbouring municipality, the level of service should follow known industry standards. Many provinces have minimum training standards for firefighters which ensure both the safety of responders and their capacity to provide an effective fire response. Fire departments should also provide fire prevention and public education functions wherever possible.

  • ISC should support First Nations in identifying the highest achievable level of fire protection within the ISC Level of Service Standards for Fire Protection Services
    • For those who can support a fire department, the ISC standards outline a tiered approach that should be adopted and promoted
    • Each tier has minimum requirements to support various levels of fire protection which should be adhered to and used as guidelines for First Nations to build capacity for higher tiered services
  • ISC should prioritize funding fire prevention initiatives for First Nations that cannot sustain a fire department or do not have a MTSA with a nearby fire department
    • Where a fire department is not supported under the ISC tiered approach, response agreements and fire prevention programs should be the highest priority
  • First Nations fire chiefs should ensure firefighters meet national and provincial training standards
    • Adopting industry best practices for fire training standards, ensures firefighters meet minimum requirements to safely face the risks associated with fighting fire. Additionally, it enhances interoperability during mutual aid responses where First Nations and non-First Nations fire departments may be working together
  • Encourage full service and all hazards MTSAs and mutual aid agreements
    • Most MTSAs between First Nations and Non-First Nations fire departments provide services for the suppression of fires only
    • These same non-First Nations fire departments often offer a much wider range of services to their home communities such as rescue, emergency medical services and fire prevention functions
    • A guiding principle for MTSAs should be to ensure the contracted fire department provides the same level of service to the First Nation as they do for their home community. This can be a very effective method of achieving several of the fire prevention and public education elements with this strategy
    • Increasing awareness around ISC-funded options for non-First Nations fire departments who enter MTSAs with First Nations can be an alternative route when a First Nation cannot reasonably sustain its own fire department
      • For an example of a MTSA agreement scope of services, see appendix A

Strategic objective 4A: First Nations should adopt national minimum building codes and develop a standardized inspection process for non-ISC funded buildings by 2026.

Strategic objective 4B: First Nations should adopt a minimum fire training standard for firefighter training by 2025.

5. Climate change

Climate change will continue to increase the risk of wildfires across Canada. This greatly increases the potential for loss of homes, critical infrastructure and cultural assets in First Nations. Additionally, First Nations have been disproportionately impacted by regional and provincial emergency events such as flooding and forest fires.

  • Incorporate fire safety with disaster risk reduction initiatives through the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Sendai Framework
    • The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Sendai Framework recognizes an inclusive approach to understanding and mitigating risks, with a focus on engagement from all-of-society
    • The Government of Canada has adopted the Sendai Framework as a key element of cross-government emergency management improvement, which creates opportunities for First Nations to:
      • be more involved in the decision-making process
      • ensure issues like cultural resilience and assets are considered and addressed in regional and federal strategies
  • Encourage First Nations participation in regional and federal disaster planning under the Sendai Framework
    • The all-of-society approach in the Sendai Framework creates opportunities for First Nation leaders to participate in disaster and risk reduction planning that directly impacts their communities
    • Governments at all levels should include First Nations leaders and First Nations emergencies coordinators in regional and federal disaster response planning
  • Reduce the risk of fire at the wildland urban interface and improve First Nations fire department's capacity respond to such fire incidents:
    • Climate change is having an enormous impact on the duration and severity of wildfire seasons across Canada
    • First Nations are often in remote and rural areas where the wildfire threat is high
    • Wildfires pose a tremendous risk to critical infrastructure and building assets
  • Enhance capacity for First Nations to address fire risks associated with extreme temperatures:
    • Extreme cold temperatures increase the risk of fires caused by inadequate or improper use of heating equipment
    • Extreme hot temperatures present an increased risk for electrical fires resulting from inadequate cooling devices and overloaded electrical systems to support them

Strategic objective 5A: All First Nations should conduct a wildfire risk assessment by 2024. High risk First Nations should implement FireSmart programs by 2026. Moderate risk First Nations should complete a FireSmart strategy by 2027.

Strategic objective 5B: Establish a federal framework to incorporate First Nations leaders, or their respective fire prevention officers or emergency management coordinators, in disaster and emergency preparedness responses both at the federal and provincial level for First Nations to share their expertise and traditional ways in handling extreme climate changes events in their territories.

6. Critical infrastructure

Critical infrastructure supporting fire protection initiatives requires long-term planning and funding. First steps include the adoption of standards, establishing a process to identify and assess existing infrastructure and systems to plan for new and replacement infrastructure. This focus area identifies key elements to assist in developing plans to improve infrastructure assets and improve fire and life safety.

  • Focus on renewing and improving fire safety infrastructure through the Build Back Better approach
    • Building back better has great potential to address many critical infrastructure deficiencies in First Nations
    • Water supply systems for fire protection and potable water should be upgraded either through regular replacement cycles or post-disaster
    • Water supply systems, especially in First Nations where a fire department cannot be supported, should be designed to facilitate the implementation of home fire sprinklers
    • Homes should be reconstructed to meet the current needs of the community
    • They should include home fire sprinklers and the use of fire resistive building materials in high-risk forest fire areas
  • Introduce technology at the regional and national levels to support, track and coordinate fire protection and prevention programs
    • Support the use of technology and software that takes information from communities and fire departments to produce an analytical approach in preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery to support First Nations nationally. Some examples include:
      • GIS mapping for streets, infrastructure, homes, wildfire and flood risks and the identification of culturally sensitive lands
      • tracking the planning and implementation of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm installations, fire extinguishers, public education programs and community risk reductions functions
      • tracking of fire department apparatus and equipment including repair and maintenance programs
      • strengthening internet connectivity to support this technology as well as emergency communications and 911 access
      • implementing an asset management program for all fire related assets and infrastructure

Strategic objective 6A: First Nations technical organizations and provincial and federal organizations should collaborate to implement a business process, mapping and workflow solution to help First Nations track the maintenance requirements of their fire department equipment and apparatus.

Strategic objective 6B: Identify First Nations impacted by a deficient water supply system and develop a strategic plan to improve water infrastructure so that First Nations fire departments can respond to fires with a system that meets standardized life-safety requirements.

Strategic objective 6C: ISC should prioritize investments to support upgrading faulty or aged telecommunications equipment in First Nations fire departments. In addition, all First Nations should adopt the appropriate dispatch or 911 system as applicable to their regions fire response needs.

Appendix A: Municipal type service agreement guidelines

MTSAs can be an effective approach for First Nations to receive Fire protection - even for First Nations who can operate their own fire department. Where a First Nation is contracting fire protection from a nearby community, the following elements should be considered, at a minimum, for inclusion in the service agreement - where the fire department delivers this service within their own area and where it is practical to do so in the First Nation. Ultimately, both communities should have the same level of fire services wherever possible.

Typical municipal fire services
Response Prevention
  • Structure fire suppression
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Motor vehicle incident response
  • Specialty services such as:
    • rope rescue
    • high angle rescue
    • confined space rescue
    • trench rescue
    • hazardous materials response
  • Fire inspections of buildings and facilities where people assemble
  • Community fire safety programs
  • Public education programs for schools
  • Enforcement and compliance with applicable fire codes
  • Fire investigation and reporting of fire incidents to provincial or national systems

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