No dedicated fire boat for Stag and Fawn Island

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Ferries sit waiting at Stag Island. They will have to be registered as commercial vessels to be used for fire protection.

St. Clair Township firefighters will rely on commercial ferries to get to Fawn and Stag Island if there is a fire.

That may leave people on Stag Island in the lurch in the short term.

After a New Years Day fire in 2022, Fire Chief Richard Boyes started looking at the response to the two St. Clair River islands where there are about 180 cottages. Boyes found the department could not use a private boat to get the firefighters across the St. Clair as it had at New Years. Transport Canada rules say only a commercial vessel can be used for rescue operations.

In June 2022, Boyes said the most effective way to cross the St. Clair in case of emergency would be to purchase a couple of boats exclusively for the department’s use. The department suggested that would cost about $300,000 per boat and the department would have to find a place to dock.

Council said the new council elected in October 2022 would have to deal with the issue.

In the meantime, the township and department have encouraged both Fawn and Stag Island Cottage Associations to have the ferries which serve the islands licensed as commercial operators.

Boyes told council May 1 Fawn Island has obtained the license but Stag Island has yet to make a decision whether to license its private ferry. Last year, the fire department had a deal with Point Edward Fire, the OPP and Coast Guard to get a ride if necessary. But that too was a limited response.

“If these agencies are unavailable, the fire department cannot respond to an emergency on Stag Island.”

Boyes tells The Independent it is simply not safe to send volunteer firefighters on a boat which isn’t a commercial vessel.

So, on May 1, council passed on the idea of a dedicated fire boat instead passing a motion saying Stag Island must obtain a commercial operators watercraft license to allow the department to use the ferry to get to the island for emergencies.

But even with the ferries licensed and able to transport firefighters, the cottages could still be vulnerable, according to Boyes’ report. “St. Clair Fire Department can only respond to the island if the approved boat is available. The fire department will not respond to the island if the approved boat is unavailable or out of service for the season. This is usually late fall, winter, and early spring.”

Boyes says there are not that many fires on Stag or Fawn Island. Since the New Years’ Day fire which prompted the investigation into fire response, there has not been another fire on Stag.

And he says there are points in the year where there is simply no way to access the two islands because of ice in the St. Clair River.

While members of the cottage associations on the two islands were not available for comment, in the past, they’d asked the municipality to purchase boats for the fire department. They had also voiced concern “about not being notified of the change in response protocols,” said Boyes in his report.