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Sundridge Strong Fire Dept. not likely to introduce ice and water rescues

The discussion follows the drowning of a 10-year-old Golden Retriever who broke through the ice of the South River in Joly Township January 2 while chasing a bird
Sundridge Strong fire chief Andrew Torrance says adding ice and water rescues to the duties of the volunteer firefighters would be asking a lot of them. A bi-council meeting of Sundridge and Strong town councils debated the issue after a 10-year-old Golden Retriever drowned this year in the South River. The South River Machar Fire Department responded to the call but couldn't save the dog because it doesn't perform ice and water rescues in swift water conditions.

It appears the Sundridge Strong Volunteer Fire Department won't add ice and water rescues to its level of service.

The discussion follows the drowning of a 10-year-old Golden Retriever named Brody who broke through the ice of the South River in Joly Township on January 2 while chasing a bird.

The fire chief of the South River Machar Fire Department was heavily criticized for not doing anything to help save Brody despite being on the scene with another firefighter.

See: South River firemen stood by as pet dog drowned says owner

And: 'Substantial risk of serious injury to our firefighters' in saving dog says South River Fire Chief

No rescue was attempted because ice and water rescues are not a service the South River Machar Fire Department offers when dealing with swift water conditions.

Joly Township receives fire protection service from both South River and the Sundridge Strong fire hall, and it asked for a joint council meeting of Strong and Sundridge to discuss ice and water rescues.

Fire Chief Andrew Torrance was at the bi-council meeting.

Strong Mayor Tim Bryson asked him about the challenges a small volunteer fire department, like the local department, would face if it tried to add ice and water rescue training to its level of service.

In response, Torrance said any level of service is based on hazards, risks and needs, and added those factors are established through risk assessments.

“We don’t just arbitrarily decide what services we’re offering,” Torrance said.

“Council decides the services and approves the services.  We train to meet the level of service that’s approved based on risk assessment, the needs and circumstances”.

Torrance said to the best of his knowledge, the Sundridge Strong fire department has responded to one ice water rescue in the last five years.

He said ice and water rescue require the right equipment, training and resources, and the resources in this instance are people.

Torrance said the challenge is the local fire department doesn’t have the equipment, the people, or the time to train personnel in this type of rescue.

Sundridge’s Deputy Mayor Shawn Jackson told the bi-council asking the volunteers to train for ice and water rescues might be asking “a little too much.”

Jackson said legislative changes are coming to fire departments, and given that the local volunteers already go through quite a bit of training, he said adding ice and water rescues to their duties is “asking a lot of our firefighters at this point.”

Torrance agreed, saying the additional services would be “taxing to our people.”

Torrance said the department is made up of 20 volunteers who have personal lives and jobs outside the fire department.

The Fire Chief made a point of saying the eventual decision on the level of service rests with the bi-council.

“If council said we shall, I’m assuming that would be based on risk assessment and data,” Torrance said.

“We would train to those standards.  But I think we are asking a lot of our folks.”

The discussion ended with both councils accepting the Joly request to talk about the level of fire service at the bi-council, and no further action was taken on the matter.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.