Marine rescue cut in South Dundas; may look at privatizing

South Dundas Fire Chief Cameron Morehouse, seen here during a March 21, 2017 council meeting, has convinced the municipality to get out of the marine rescue business because of liability for the municipality. Morehouse says they will be looking at possibly privatizing the service. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

MORRISBURG – South Dundas is out of the marine rescue business.

Council voted 3-2 last week to remove it from the township’s fire department service.

Following the vote, Fire Chief Cameron Morehouse told Cornwall Newswatch they will be looking at options for privatizing the service.

Morehouse said he would be talking with the South Dundas firefighters and exploring whether a group was interested in taking it over, possibly having it stationed by Crysler Marina.

The chief said the liability, especially when responding to medical calls on the water, reared its head during a review of the fire policies and procedures.

Morehouse has been on the job for less than a year, having joined Aug. 22, 2016.

“I feel the river is well protected,” Morehouse told council while highlighting the fact the O.P.P., Canadian Coast Guard and RCMP all have boats on area waterways, including the St. Lawrence River.

South Dundas currently has nine firefighters certified to use the boat but only two that are allowed to drive it.

Right now, if the Canadian Coast Guard requests the South Dundas rescue boat go out, the township is reimbursed $110 for the call. “We’re not going to get paid unless one of those (two) firefighters who is certified to operate the boat (are on board).” Morehouse was reluctant to tie down those two firefighters on standby all summer.

Morehouse said the boat wasn’t recognized in their level of service agreement, leaving the fire service and the municipality open to “a lot of headaches, a lot of problems” concerning liability.

Another problem also showed up during his review. “We have no ice water rescue training whatsoever,” Morehouse said. He wants money that would have went to the marine rescue operations to go into shore-based rescue training.

“There have been times when there has been a water rescue or a water search that the firemen have been all night searching for somebody who has been stranded on an island or somebody that’s went overboard,” Coun. Marc St. Pierre said in keeping the service.

Couns. St. Pierre and Archie Mellan were the two voting to keep the service.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about the liability,” Morehouse responded. “God forbid, if one of our firefighters fell overboard and drowned? It would be just a nightmare.”

The chief said, in some cases for other municipalities, it has ended up in criminal charges or jail.

“I would think, in real terms, if there was emergency on the water someone on shore, with all the residences in the season, are going to see it long before a 911 call would come in and people are more than happy to jump in their boat to assist. It’s a lost cause personally,” Deputy Mayor Jim Locke said.

South Dundas has about $40,000 invested in the marine rescue service and spends a few thousand dollars a year to maintain it.