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Tay considering open-water rescue vessel after this year's snowmobile deaths

Victoria Harbour residents willing to lead campaign to raise $325,000 for the cost, training and maintenance of vessel after witnessing fatal incidents on Georgian Bay

A group of Tay good Samaritans have come to the rescue after witnessing a fatal drowning incident earlier this year.

Christina Wood, a Robins Point Road resident, was the one who called 911 on January 17, the day a father and son died in Georgian Bay near Victoria Harbour.

"This tragic weekend on January 17, in two separate incidents, three lives were lost to Georgian Bay," she said, presenting to council committee a fundraising plan that would collect money for the purchase, training and five-year maintenance cost for an open-water/ice rescue vessel.

"From this experience, we reflected on how these lives could have been saved. We're proposing to raise funds to purchase a Sever 650K air boat that will improve our response time to safely to rescue crew and save a life."

She was joined by her friend and neighbour Sharelle McArthur and volunteer firefighter Brandon Hillis. The three shared a video that helped council members and staff envision how the Sever 650 would work.

"As you can see, this is an incredible vessel made for waters like Georgian Bay," said McArthur. "The Sever 650 has a 430-horsepower motor that can operate effectively and efficiently on open water and ice with a max speed of 150 kilometres per hour.

"It will be complete with navigational equipment and thermal imaging cameras that will assist in locating the patient. There is a large deck that allows for more crew members to work together to retrieve the patient. The Sever is equipped with a heated cabin that will keep everyone out of the elements and give space to provide immediate medical treatment if needed. The speed of the Sever will also allow us to aid our neighbouring communities on Georgian Bay."

The three have worked with Tay fire chief Shawn Aymer to identify $325,000 as the target amount for covering the purchase, training and first five years of maintenance costs. The group has ideas around holding annual fundraisers to cover costs beyond that, said McArthur.

Coun. Paul Raymond agreed it was a good idea.

"I think it's been on all our minds since that tragedy happened," he said. "Would you be able to tell us where it would be stored and what's the potential response time to all areas it would serve?"

McArthur said they are proposing the craft be housed at the Victoria Harbour fire hall.

"With that central location and all of the access points that we have in Victoria Harbour, we think that would be the best spot to house it," she said. "They have a cabin in the hall that would be available. It would be hooked up to the truck and soon as they get the call they would be able to get to the closest access point to where the incident has occurred."

Coun. Barry Norris mused if the boat could be an OPP project.

"My dilemma on this is that we are a volunteer brigade," he said. "When you look at the response time it takes anywhere from five to 10 minutes to get to the fire hall and you could be another 15 minutes before you go. Ideally, it would be best to have it on the water so we're off quickly."

Coun. Sandy Talbot shared the same thoughts.

"You need a mechanic for the fixing, so that's an extra cost," she said. "For me, that's something the OPP can handle a lot better because they have a lot more funds than the township."

There was also a suggestion of contacting neighbouring municipalities and storing it, possibly with Midland, so it's on the water.

Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle also had concerns around liability related to the operation of the vessel beyond Tay's boundaries on Georgian Bay.

"To me, it's incorporating a plan that involves the surrounding municipalities to come back," he said. "At some point, I'd like to see some kind of discussion with other municipalities. I don't want us to be responsible beyond our boundaries without any input from other townships."

Aymer responded to those concerns.

"If there isn't a marine operator on the shift, the boat doesn't go out," he said, adding that was a rule the OPP followed, too. "There are only so many marine operators.

"If it were stored in Tay, we would make sure there would be an on-call operator to get it going. Mechanically, we have an in-house mechanic. Because it is an engine that is on stilts in the back, it's easy to work on. I spoke to the mechanic and he said it shouldn't be a problem."

Answering LaChapelle's question, Aymer said agreements with neighbouring municipalities will help clarify the roles each neighbour will play in terms of usage and contribution.

"Georgian Bay (Township) is keenly aware of the situation and wants to know how it's going to play out," he said. "They offer their services to their residents in summer but can't in winter. They rely on good Samaritans to come by with their airboats and you can can imagine how that works out for them. 

"Anybody could approach them and say we'd like to see some sort of financial contribution because ultimately there's going to be an agreement in place," added Aymer.

Currently, he said, the OPP's go-to during the shoulder seasons is the airboat in Hawkestone, Oro-Medonte.

"We all know there's no straight line from here to Hawkestone," Aymer said. "It has to be hooked up on a trailer and brought here and then launched. There's no formal agreement in place, but we get emails every time that airboat is out of service because it gets called up this way."

Coun. Jeff Bumstead had questions around training and licensing.

"Is the training solely for the ice-water rescue team and what type of training we're talking?" he asked. "Is there a reoccurring licensing and maintenance of the boat? Are we going to get into having someone on staff that's a marine mechanic?"

Aymer said the initial vessel operation training for $4,000 will be taken by the individual chosen to run the craft.

"Then there's another training for $600 per member," he said. "It isn't a small vessel operator. there are two separate designations. One is the small vessel operator for proficiency, which is for crafts under 25 tonnes and to go 25 nautical miles off-shore. It would be hard to go that speed here and the craft is under 25 tonnes. Then you would have a marine emergency duties course for $600 for our firefighters. That is good for life."

Mayor Ted Walker has some questions around the fundraising proposed by the group.

"What's the window for you to raise the funds?" he asked.

McArthur responded that the group had set a goal of three years.

"Our intention is that within 30 days of getting approval, we will be providing a schedule which will tell you the methods of raising money and goals and expectations," she said.

Walker asked staff how this would affect the township's asset management planning.

"When we purchase an asset, we're required to start putting funds aside to replace it over the life expectancy of it," he explained to the presenters. 

CAO Lindsay Barron confirmed the township would have to start saving up for the asset as soon as it is acquired.

Walker moved a motion to have Aymer bring back a report at a future council meeting, addressing training, costs, and agreements with neighbouring municipalities.

"At some point," he added, "council can bless the project once those questions are answered and that will free up Sharelle, Christina, and Brandon to start their part of the process."