Rock Lake Rescue. The story behind an OPP Commissioners Citation.

from left, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes, OPP P/Cst. Jonathan Dahl (left) and P/Cst. Ryan Zanatta (right). Paramedics, Luc Baillargeon-Smith and Bruce Martin, with OPP Chief Superintendent Fern Labelle.

“It was dusk when the call came in. It was definitely dark when we got there. Dispatch told us a girl fell from a fifty foot cliff at Rock Lake.”

EMS Thessalon (Ontario) Detachment paramedics, Bruce Martin and Luc Baillargeon-Smith got a call from Emergency Dispatch on a late July, 2015 evening that would set them out on quite a serious matter. Bruce Martin would be the ambulance driver that night.

From Thessalon to Bruce Mines is 20 km’s west (Hwy 11-17) and then it’s another 23 km’s north from Bruce Mines to Rock Lake. Luckily, there wasn’t a train at the Hwy. 638 crossing.  Time, was of the essence.

The East Algoma Thessalon detachment, OPP also received that same call from Dispatch. A woman had fallen while hiking, from a cliff; about 50 feet down, and was on a rock ledge. OPP officers and partners, P/Cst. Jonathan Dahl  and P/Cst. Ryan Zanatta dispatched to Rock Lake.

rock-lake-mapWhen it’s dark on country roads, it is really dark.  Anyone who has driven the stretch of highway 638 knows how careful a person has to be.  Part of the magic of that highway is the twists, turns, and hills one encounters whilst driving. Driving 638 is all business.

Once at Rock Lake, the OPP and two EMS paramedics set out from shore clear across the lake, on quite a rescue adventure with, thankfully, a very good outcome.

“The south end (of Rock L.) is where we came in from and parked the ambulance.” said Luc Baillargeon-Smith. “The OPP were there at that same time, and we were met by a pontoon boat.”

The pontoon boat would prove invaluable July 31st, 2015.  This was a life saving operation, to be sure.

“The area where the woman had fallen was boat access only.” Said OPP Constable Jonathan Dahl. “A gentleman with a boat was willing to get us all over to where the woman had fallen.”

Jagged rocks and boulders that outcrop from shore, about 200 metres, do not allow for any boat to get right up nice and close to shore. It goes without saying that, the boulders and rocks in water are very treacherous, and dangerous to negotiate. Getting firm footing is all but impossible.

“The shore line is rocky and we trudged out way into the lake to get onto the pontoon boat. We all went over on the boat together. We had some equipment with us. There wasn’t anywhere to dock the boat. Deep drop-offs, jagged rocks, bad angles for rocks, made it difficult; Definitely no place to bring the boat in to shore.” said Baillargeon-Smith.

Also factoring large into the rescue at Rock Lake, were several good Samaritans, including the pontoon boat owner.

“We estimated she fell 30 metres.” said Jonathan Dahl. The boat had to remain located a good distance off shore, close enough for us to jump off. It was nighttime and the jagged rocks made the route hard. We hiked up to where she was.” said Dahl.

“There was a ledge about twenty feet up that we climbed to, with lots of maneuvers.  It was quite an ordeal to get up to where she was. We don’t have any rescue equipment, so to speak. She wasn’t doing very well at the time.” said Baillargeon-Smith.

“The paramedics attended to her medically.” Said Dahl. “We tried to figure out the best way to bring her down the cliff.  There wasn’t really any great way to get her down. There were two other civilians there that helped us. It’s hard to explain, but the six of us were able to get her down off this cliff by passing her along; Some would hold her, while others would make a move. That continued all the way down.  We were all wet. It was steep, and dark.”

“It was dangerous for everyone; it was pitch black out there.” said, Baillargeon-Smith. “With every step, you could step into a crevice or loose rock. If you’re at the back of the back – board, you can’t see where you’re putting your feet.”

“Lowering her down off the initial ledge that she was on took several hands. There were six people with their hand on the back board, even getting her on and off the pontoon boat.”

The pontoon boat owner was a local cottager from Rock Lake. “Having that boat there was huge.” said Baillargeon-Smith.

“There were people out in boats and down on the shoreline using flashlights to help us see while we up on the ledge, where we were working, and helped to guide us down.”

“Getting her from the shoreline onto the pontoon boat was difficult, and we had to be so careful. Lots of potential hazards. It was about 200 metres to the waiting ambulance from the boat to shore.”

bruce-martin“We used a scoop stretcher that she was placed onto. She was in and out of consciousness. There was a lot of concern. When we got back to the shoreline, we did the same thing in reverse. Rocks to negotiate again. Bruce Mines Fire Rescue Dept. met us where we had parked the ambulance. They waded out into the water, and helped carry her out on the scoop stretcher, and get her all bundled up.”

Both the EMS paramedics and the OPP officers stated, “There were lots of people who played a part in making this all happen.”

Jonathan Dahl said “That night is a great example of the public coming together with emergency services to work together to accomplish a goal; To get that young girl off the cliff safely. It was just a great collaborative effort. No one of those groups individually would have succeeded. We would have failed to get her off the cliff. Together, as a group, we were able to safely and successfully get her to the hospital where she definitely needed to be.”

“Everybody played a role”. said Baillargeon-Smith. “There were a number of people that stepped up and lent a hand to get this girl rescued. After she was safely in the ambulance, we got out of there, and brought her straight up to the Sault. We were suspecting internal injuries, and head injuries with her coming in and out of consciousness.”

“We learned later, that the girl was not from the area, and was visiting. She ended up being released from Sault Area Hospital about two days later.” Yay.

At a ceremony in North Bay, Ontario, October 28th, 2016, Jonathan Dahl, Ryan Zanatta, Bruce Martin and Luc Baillargeon -Smith were awarded OPP Commissioner Citations for their heroic lifesaving efforts on Rock Lake, July 31, 2015.



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