You’ve gone for a walk on Whitefish Island and you fall in the river. You’ve gone overboard while on your Sunday cruise, or perhaps, a big fish pulls you in while fishing from shore… all of these scenarios are scary, but what happens next.
If it’s summertime, the Sault Fire Services’ airboat isn’t on the call list for these situations. According to Public Relations Officer Naomi Thibault, the Sault Fire boat, which has been available for calls to service in the past, doesn’t run in the summer time.
“We do not have a summer operations vessel. The waterway is considered federal waters. Should water rescue be required in the summer, the initial request goes to the JRCC Trenton,” said Thibault in a statement to SaultOnline. “They can decide to either deploy themselves or they can activate the Auxiliary Coast Guard here (Sault Search and Rescue). They could also request support from the United States Coast Guard.”
Earlier this year, the United States Coast Guard helicopters could be seen training with both the OPP and the RCMP vessels on the St. Mary’s River. Sault Ste. Marie Airport also hosts training for Canadian Forces Search and Rescue paratroopers in the area.
Exactly when the Sault Fire Services boat became unfit for summer service isn’t completely clear. On August 5, 2017 the boat was being readied for use to rescue two individuals in the water.
On that day, Platoon Chief Martynuk said they would much rather be called to help then be called too late and our Airboat was for all seasons.
“Nobody can be on the river quicker than us. Our boat is parked here – It’s got a dedicated crew. We can be on the river in probably under 5 minutes. If the police get a call – we can respond very quickly,” said Martynuk, at that time. “That is an all season rescue craft. It’s used by agencies outside of the firefighters as well. – The OPP – and other agencies that request it. The air boat is hooked up all the time – We’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
If it comes down to who’s going to pay the bill because the water is considered federal, then why do we conduct winter operations with the vessel on the river? To better understand what other cities do in answer to who pays for what regarding water rescues, SaultOnline reached out to Toronto Fire Services to get an idea of how they manage the rescues of this nature.
Toronto Fire Services conducts operations on a large portion of Lake Ontario, along the waterfront.
According to Toronto Fire Services District Chief Steven Powell, between 2016-2019 they rescued 180 people from the water and currently have no cost recovery mechanism for providing that service.
Even though Sault Fire Services don’t provide their boat for water rescue during the summer, it doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple levels of rescue services who can and do. SaultOnline has reached out to JRCC and others, watch for that story in the coming days.
Stay with SaultOnline your leading source for emergency services news in Sault Ste. Marie.