National Indigenous Firefighters Competition wraps up in New Brunswick

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National Indigenous Firefighters Competition wraps up in New Brunswick

Dozens of the top Indigenous firefighters from across the country gathered in New Brunswick this week to compete and build on their skills.

The Tobique First Nation played host to the National Indigenous Firefighters Competition.

Team Manitoba was named the winners of the event at a banquet Saturday night.

The event is held annually by the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC).

'Best of the best'

On Saturday, teams representing eight districts across the country squared off in competition.

"It's pretty much the best of the best firefighters in Canada," said AFAC executive director Blaine Wiggins.

In order to get a ticket to the event, Indigenous fire departments first had to win a regional event, said Wiggins.

Like other firefighter games, the events are meant to mimic exactly what first responders see on the job.

Events not known beforehand

Wiggins said there are about 18 different events in total, but only a few are selected for the actual competition.

He said competitors don't know which events will be chosen until they arrive.

"We don't actually pick until they get here," said Wiggins.

Duane McLeod has been to several of the national competitions and said not knowing the events before can be a little stressful.

But McLeod, a member of the fire department in Cross Lake, Man., said they train for all events beforehand.

After participating in the final event with his team, McLeod said there was an opportunity to build their skills even more.

"We had some training yesterday," he said. "They brought in a few guys from one of the other fire departments."

Along with the extra training, the firefighting competition also gives the association a chance to meet for its annual general meeting.

As fierce as the competition is, it may be surprising for some that the national title isn't the most coveted prize.

Wiggins said the most sportsmanlike award, won this year by Team Nunavut, is what more teams aspire to take home.

"It's about fire service leadership and really it's about showing the team camaraderie," Wiggins said.

"Demonstrating what it is to be not just a good firefighter, but a good person."

Jason Moulton agrees.

The fire chief of the Tobique First Nation Fire Department said the competitions may be tense, but at the end of the day, they're all "brothers and sisters."

'Tribes come together'

The best part Moulton notes, is coming together as Indigenous firefighters to see both old and new faces.

"There's a lot of pride," he said.

"We're all First Nations and it's nice to see different … tribes come together as one and become friends."

Wiggins said that while there is a focus on skills over the week, the point is to recognize and appreciate hard work.

He said about 99 per cent of Indigenous fire departments in Canada are staffed by volunteers and this was one way to acknowledge their service.