Fire Services boat doesn’t work summers

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Sault Fire using their Water Rescue One airboat outside of the Bushplane, February 3, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

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.”

A Search and Rescue Technician can be seen floating to the ground at the airport April 26, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. What made the boat unfit John? Props rotating in the same direction is not a reason. For performance reasons they counterrotate. Many boats were built this way. Unfortunately they were reaching for any excuse to cut that service. In Ontario fire departments provide water rescue services because of their proximity, training, and response times. Like any piece of equipment it is inspected annually. Search and rescue provide a great service but again response times are the most important piece of the puzzle. Sault fire services has been trained in this area. I’ve seen them on the water many times performing training exercises. So the big question is did any service bring those injured people to shore. I heard nobody did. If services like the Coast Guard are available why weren’t they used?

  2. Has anyone considered the other main purpose of a fire boat. The Coast Guard is told to leave firefighting to local municipal fire departments. That means that you have no marine fire response for a vessel fire. I train firefighters to deal with marine fires AND marine emergencies. Provide a proper fire/rescue vessel and then train the crews.

  3. Dear John. I wouldn’t put much faith in the former Fire Chief’s assessment of anything. He tried to reduce the staffing of the local fire service to a dangerous level putting those firefighters at risk and if you put any merit in his determination of an unsafe vessel you would fit in on city council with the rest of the ones he duped.
    The city could have easily upgraded the boat they had. As I recall the only problem that Chief put forward was that both motors rotated the propellers in the same direction be. The city saved about $3000 per year dumping the boat. That’s about 1% of a vacant strip joint property. I would at this point leave you with your opinion and I will reserve mine as well. Good chat.

  4. Given that an airboat is not designed for the Great Lakes and are designed for flood, shallow water, and ice rescue operations it is probably a good thing that it’s not being used during the summer. When the fire department had their fire boat docked at the marina 24/7 it made a bit more sense to dispatch them to these types of calls, but it’s really something best left for those who specialize in that area including like the coast guard who are specifically trained to respond to these types of calls. I have seen the Search and rescue boat docked at the pine street marina all summer (which is the coast guard aux. here) and it makes sense that they would be a better resource to call upon for water related emergencies given that’s what they are trained and specialized in… it’s not always about getting people there rapidly it’s about getting the right resource to the right call…

  5. It’s very sad that our city has lost this service provided by Sault Fire Services. If any of you remember it was done so on the word of the former Fire Chief Figliola.
    (https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/fire-chief-wants-to-scuttle-boat-rescues-204143) These guys could be on the water in minutes heading to assist. Yes there are other services in play, however, the time lost from the initial reports could mean life or death for someone. Hopefully the city has posted emergency numbers for people to call when in trouble on our waterfront. Maybe the present city council can repair another loss to our city and bring back our fire service based water rescue service. We are trying to attract people here but keep reducing services. If Toronto treated people the same way there may be 180 fatalities.

    • But they would be on the water with minutes with a vessel not rated for the type of rescues they were responding to… if they still had an actual boat designed for open water then maybe they would still be responding. The boat they had was taken off the water under the former fire chief was assessed as an unfit vessel. Why would the city invest in a new one to replace it when it’s not their jurisdiction? And why would the city permit the fire service to respond with the airboat that is not rated for deep open waters? Both scenarios are a liability and could/would result in a failed rescue. The coast guard is the right service to respond to these situations. They are extensively trained on water rescue situations making it the best responding agency. It’s like saying let’s send the coast guard to a house fire… it’s not what they are expert to do.

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