Students ask TBM council to forgive hiking rescue bill

·3 min read

A trio of students who had to be rescued during a hiking mishap at Metcalfe Rock have asked The Blue Mountains council to forgive the bill they received after the incident.

Taya Eisses, Jenna Veenstra and Mary Grace Kloosterman made a presentation at council’s meeting on August 29 and asked that consideration be given by council to forgive the bill they received for the emergency response to their situation.

On April 11, 2022, the trio was hiking at Metcalfe Rock and became stranded at the bottom of an ice wall. After several attempts to get out, they realized they were unable to hike back up or further down and were stuck in place. Eventually the group had to call 911 and the OPP and The Blue Mountains Fire Department responded to help the group climb out of the area. Initially, the students received a bill of in excess of $5,000 (more than $1,700 each) for the rescue operation, since that time the bill has been reduced by the fire chief to just over $930 each.

“This was shocking news to us, as we were not aware that calling 911 had financial consequences,” said Eisses.

The group noted that 12 volunteer firefighters, three full-time firefighters, one incident commander and a number of vehicles responded to their call and they questioned the need for such a heavy response, considering none of them was injured during the hike.

Members of council were sympathetic to the situation and asked staff to provide more information about the incident before a decision about the bill can be made.

CAO Shawn Everitt explained that the fire department responds in full force to such incidents to ensure a full complement of personnel is available on the scene if necessary.

“When the call comes in all the available officers and firefighters come to make sure we have adequate support. When they respond, they don’t know what they’re getting into,” said Everitt.

Members of council also asked the CAO about what kind of warning signage exists on that hiking trail. Everitt said staff would look into the signage issue, but he noted that Metcalfe Rock is not town-owned land and the trails there are maintained by a volunteer group.

Coun. Paula Hope encouraged staff and council to take a hard look at the situation.

“This really concerns me. One would think when you call 911 you’re getting assistance. I wouldn’t want anyone to think again about calling 911,” said Hope. “We want to be sure individuals are able to keep themselves safe.”

Coun. Andrea Matrosovs said council needs a full report from staff with full details about the incident. She noted that she is familiar with Metcalfe Rock, as she lives in the area and has hiked the trail, but didn’t know the exact location of the trail from which the group had to be rescued. Matrosovs also said they should investigate what standards exist across the province for billing those who call 911 for help.

“You need help and you call 911 and you find out there may be a cost. You still need help. What is the standard? What is the protocol?” Matrosovs asked.

Council voted 6-0 (coun. Jim Uram was absent) to receive the group’s delegation and asked for a full staff report on the incident.

“We’ll get more information and we’ll be able to make a decision,” said Mayor Alar Soever.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca