Highlands East spending ice rescue funding

·2 min read

Highlands East firefighters will finally get equipment and training for ice and water rescue, utilizing community GoFundMe money raised four years ago.

Council approved the purchase of equipment and training for a five-person crew Feb. 9, using the more than $18,000 set aside from a 2017 GoFundMe. The move comes after the announcement of the permanent closure of the Ontario Fire College (OFC) on March 31, cancelling an approved ice and water rescue course there. The course can now be offered in-house.

Highlands East had waited for years for an approved course from the OFC, which was put on hold after a 2017 inquest into two deaths during ice and water rescue courses. The OFC planned to offer a new course in early 2020, but the pandemic sidelined that. The college has not offered classes since the pandemic began.

“Ice rescue is not a guarantee to alter the outcome of the initial emergency, but it may just stop someone from making a poor decision and try to assist while illequipped and uninformed,” Fire chief Chris Baughman said.

The 2017 GoFundMe started after cottager Bob Bell died when his snowmobile went through the ice on Dark Lake. Highlands East’s fire department currently lacks the qualifications to offer ice rescue and can only do shore-based work. Dysart et al is also in the training stage, but Algonquin Highlands and Minden Hills are already trained, according to a report from Baughman.

Baughman estimates the Highlands East firefighters would be trained by late 2021 or early 2022.

Deputy mayor Cec Ryall asked about the makeup of the initial group of trainees. “We’re such a diverse municipality and we have quite a few fire halls,” Ryall said. “Are we going to be looking at a composite group of people here that will draw from different fire halls?”

Baughman said it would be based on whoever is available 90 per cent of the time, and a person’s size to ensure the equipment – including suits – could fit the most number of people.

“It’s going to be a real pick and choose throughout the whole municipality to get the right group of men and women,” he said.

Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander