When emergency response doesn’t respond, two children die in fire on First Nations Reserve…

Last night when I watched the evening news I learned that two young children had died in a fire near Loon Lake, Saskatchewan. Now while it is not unusual for people to die in house fires, in this case the deaths might have been prevented had emergency response teams actually responded. They did not respond, because the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation reserve on which the fire took place was behind in their payments and Larry Heon (Fire Chief) said the reserve had “cancelled it’s firefighting contract with the community.”

Heon, also mayor of Loon Lake, says he was asleep when the 911 call about the blaze on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan reserve. was automatically rerouted to him at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, “But we didn’t go,” Heon told reporters, he went on to explain that the First Nation reserve had outstanding bills, and had sent the village a letter last year discontinuing their fire service.

Officials from the First Nation reserve expressed surprise when told to what Heon had said.  They believed that Loon Lake firefighters would respond to a fire on the reserve. The RCMP was the only emergency service to respond and by then it was too late, when officers arrived, Harley and Haley Cheenanow were already dead. Police arrived in time to watch the children’s father carry their bodies from a building fully engulfed in flame.

Chief Richard Ben a friend of the Cheenanow family, visited the man and his wife after hearing about what happened. Ben stated that he was not aware the reserve’s firefighting contract had been cancelled. Although there had been complaints about service provided to the reserve in the past, he believed an agreement was still in place.

“We’ve paid thousands upon thousands to that fire department,” he told reporters. “Other fires they’ve showed up. Other fires we paid them for it. And for them not to show up at this incident is kind of an insult of the First Nation.”

Kurt Schultz, the band’s finance director, also believed the contract was still in effect, but said he had not seen firefighters on the reserve since a fire there last winter. There was an open dispute about how much the reserve actually owed the village for firefighting costs.  Schultz, also added that someone else from the reserve could have cancelled the contract, but he was unaware of whom that person might be.

Is this what we have become as a society? Firefighters won’t save lives without a contract saying they have to do so because it’s been paid for? When did a town’s bottom line finances become more important than human lives?

Whether or not the Makwa Sahgaiehcan reserve was up to date on their service fees is not the issue here. What disturbs me most about this story is that the Fire Chief received an emergency call and went back to bed instead of mobilizing response, because the First Nation reserve was behind in their payments! 

Essentially, two children died because of money, and that is completely unacceptable! This kind of thing is becoming far too prevalent in today’s society. While the town of Loon Lake may have been financially correct in their response, they were morally wrong. It is horrifying to think that calling 911 gets no response if your village, town, or city hasn’t kept up on it’s emergency response fees.

How Larry Heon can live with himself after ignoring a fire call is something I can not imagine. How do you tell yourself “oh well, if someone dies it’s not my fault, they didn’t pay their bill.”? How do you live with yourself after you fail to send help and two children die? What is a child’s life worth these days Mr. Heon?

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