McKellar firefighters volunteer to flood backyard rinks to help stop spread of COVID-19

·3 min read

The McKellar Firefighter Association wants to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by volunteering to flood private skating rinks for McKellar residents.

At McKellar's Jan. 12 council meeting, Coun. Don Carmichael commented that it was acting fire chief Ron Harrison’s idea.

“We have very little public ice available,” said Carmichael. “And now (with) further restrictions of only five people can be together on an ice surface at any point in time, we have two options. One would be to flood public grounds which we would be responsible for or we can flood private grounds which is the responsibility of the homeowner.”

In a report submitted to council, Ron Harrison wrote to request the use of the apparatus and equipment to assist in the initial flooding of at-home rinks to provide an opportunity for ratepayers to have additional activities to do at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a fantastic initiative brought forth that will help the ratepayers of McKellar (by) staying home and skating,” Harrison said. “This will also pose benefit in the reduction of pressure on our municipal rink and reduce the use of the lake ice which can be unpredictable.”

According to Carmichael, the fire department would be using the secondary tanker and portable pumps and said the initiative could be used as a training opportunity for the firefighters as well.

“It would be another training opportunity to be doing this in freezing conditions which we don’t normally do unless in the event of a real fire,” he said. “So, this is a winter training opportunity in addition to providing a service to our private landowners.”

But could it affect fire department response times?

Coun. Marco Ancinelli, who is also a firefighter for McKellar, said that it wouldn’t as the fire department wouldn’t be using the main equipment.

“It’s a different animal all together when you’re fighting a fire in the summertime or in the winter time so I think it’s great practice,” said Ancinelli.

However, David Moore, a McKellar ratepayer, questioned the cost the township could incur with usage of the machinery that has been paid for by ratepayers.

“Taking expensive township equipment onto private property seems to have insurance claim written all over it,” said Moore.

“Should a malfunction or breakage occur, is there enough available equipment to contend with the next fire call?”

But Carmichael said during the meeting that township staff had contacted the insurance carrier who provided suggestions on what landowners should be doing.

For a ratepayer to have the fire department provide the initial flooding of their private rink, they must reach out to the township and request to have their rink flooded.

Ratepayers will have to provide a site plan, sign a waiver and follow a checklist. The procedure also includes a visit from the fire department to ensure it can be done safely.

While some ratepayers expressed their concerns online, Coun. Mike Kekkonen said that he thinks council has covered the due diligence aspect with any liability concerns.

“With that, I feel comfortable with the firefighters giving their time,” said Kekkonen. “Some people might say that there’s a cost but then again if a child or a family gets a skating rink and have an enjoyable winter, that’s priceless.”

Council voted unanimously in favour of the resolution approving the fire department to utilize the apparatus at the discretion of the acting fire chief to provide a free service to McKellar residents to flood ice rinks on private property.

The fire department volunteer staff will not be paid an hourly rate nor accumulate points for this activity.

​Sarah Cooke’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star