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An upwardly mobile fire department in Rankin Inlet

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series that shows how far the Rankin Inlet fire department has come in the past five years as it readies to officially open its new training centre in Rankin.

The Rankin Inlet Fire Department had a bit of growth awaiting it when the new fire chief, Mark Wyatt, first arrived in the community on Nov. 22, 2015.

One of the first things Wyatt noticed was the lack of proper equipment needed for the firefighters to be able to do their jobs properly.

Rankin Inlet firefighters Amanda Ford, left, and Angnakaluk Maria Friesen execute an effective exterior attack as Deputy Fire Chief Michael Aksadjuak looks on during a structural fire in Rankin on May 29, 2018.
Photos courtesy Mark Wyatt

He also noticed a lack of apparel for the firefighters to take pride in during parades, community gatherings and national events such as Remembrance Day.

Wyatt immediately approached the Office of the Fire Marshal to see what it supplied, and then set out to get the firefighters under his command proper uniforms.

Wyatt said shortly after arriving in Rankin, he approached then senior administrative officer Justin Merritt to see what type of municipal fire department budget he had to work with.

He said one look at the budget number told him one of his first orders of business was going to be to ramp up the department's fundraising efforts.

“Looking at the things the Office of the Fire Marshal supplied in terms of the basics with equipment, trucks, nozzles, hoses and that type of thing, I figured we could do better even though, at the time, I had no idea of the department's capacity for fundraising other than the odd bingo game,” said Wyatt.

“The association did have a little bit of money in the department – although some of it had gone missing – but, basically, the only fundraising that was done was with bingos.

Emergency services personnel, from left, Maryann Aksadjuak, Scott Morey, George Aksadjuak, Kyle Lowe and Hannah Hutchinson keep the tasty hotdogs coming during the third annual Easter Eggstravaganza in Rankin Inlet on April 20, 2019.

“My next-door neighbour at the time gave me a ticket to a beer dance and, when I went, I found it to be exactly that, beer and dancing.

“We knew we could take it from that to special galas and the like so we started planning. Our first live event was Oktoberfest with a local band that did pretty darn good, so we added a second live event which was Solfest and, if not for the pandemic, we would have been into our fourth year with that this year.”

Wyatt said the Rankin department reached the point where it was fundraising about $200,000 per year.

He said in total, the Rankin department has raised more than half a million dollars under his watch.

“We've built things like garages and we bought uniforms – Class A for our officers – a side-by-side and wild land fire-training equipment, as well as putting money into our new training ground.

“We put a lot of what we raise into operations. We bought a set of the jaws of life for our truck, so if we ever do have a major motor vehicle accident we have it readily available to help save lives.

“Anything, equipment wise, that we can't get from the Office of the Fire Marshal we buy ourselves. We're going to start raising money to go towards an aerial truck. Our original fire marshal said there's no way we're ever going to get a ladder truck in Rankin, yet we have three-story buildings here that you wouldn't even be allowed to build down south without the proper fire protection.

“I also want to get our fire hall to the point where we have sleeping rooms upstairs, so people can actually stay here during bad weather and be able to respond to emergencies much more quickly.”

Wyatt said he may very well have been the catalyst for the improvements to the fire department, but, without this particular fire department, he wouldn't have raised a dime.

He said everyone in the department works together to achieve its common goals.
“We've broken the department down into fire operations but our association also has committees – a fundraising committee, a special events committee, a construction committee – and they have us doing things like going out and buying fixtures to renovate the bathroom at the fire hall.

“We have talented people here who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work and they all do exactly that.

“I have an amazing group of people here and I'm simply the person fortunate enough to be the leader.”