Friday, July 8, 2016

Four-hour rescue 'not acceptable': Strathcona County Emergency Services -Kathryn's Report

A four-hour rescue mission may be deemed as unacceptable; however, Strathcona County Emergency Services made the right decisions.

On Tuesday, June 28, a 76-year-old pilot took off from South Cooking Lake Airport. Shortly after, the plane snagged the water of the lake, causing the plane to flip over into the water.

Once Strathcona County Emergency Services arrived on scene, the rescue did not work in their favor as several problems occurred, preventing the rescue team from getting to the pilot in a timely matter.

“The water rescue team attempted several different locations for accessing the lake,” said Iain Bushell, Strathcona County Emergency Services fire chief, during a presentation to county council on Tuesday, July 5.

“The first place they went was Range Road 214, they went back to the staging area, which was the Cooking Lake Sailing Club. Their first attempt was unsuccessful there.

“They moved to the airport and at one point, they did a drive by of the park that’s in South Cooking Lake; however, the access there was blocked by concrete barriers and there was no access to the lake from that point. They also attempted Range Road 213... that was where they got the airboat stuck the worst due to the mud.”

He said the water rescue team attempted three pre-planned launch locations and one alternate location for the airboat.

“We have been to Cooking Lake,” Bushell said. “We have practiced on Cooking Lake and we have identified three locations where we can and should be able to access the lake if we need to, so it is not that we showed up at the lake and we had no idea what we were doing or where we were going. We tried three different locations.”

The low water levels of South Cooking Lake presented several challenges for the rescue team and Bushell noted that if this rescue had occurred 25 years ago, the boat would have been in the water within five minutes.

“The team had last been at the lake and done a complete reconnaissance at the end of April,” Bushell said.

“Water levels had changed since the end of April. There was a bit of an expectation of success on the part of my water rescue team that they were going to go to their first, primary location, they were going to launch the boat, just like we did the last time we trained here, and this was going to go well.”

Road access conditions at the Sailing Club also presented challenges, as the road was not in good condition and was considered unsafe.

Strathcona County Emergency Services is going to conduct a thorough review of all their procedures, including the activation of the team, where the equipment is staged, how long it took to get the team to the location and how they identified where they should launch first.

“It is not that we don’t know what we are doing, this just didn’t go well,” Bushell said. “Every decision that was made, I reviewed it and I don’t disagree with each one of those individual decisions.”

He added that based on the review, Strathcona County Emergency Services will consider moving to Plan C and Plan D more quicker and activating resources a little more promptly.

“Viewed from the public and both my perspective, a water rescue that takes over four hours is not acceptable,” Bushell said. “I don’t think it is acceptable. I am not happy. The team is not very pleased with their own performance, so we understand the public scrutiny we received because on the face of it, why did it take us four hours to get to the middle of the lake?, that sounds pretty unreasonable... but there were a number of factors that led to that.”

As the councillor who oversees South Cooking Lake, Bonnie Riddell asked if the other lakes in the county would be considered for review and Bushell said the review will go beyond South Cooking Lake.

SCES will return to a future council meeting with a finalized review.

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