En­force­ment is de­ter­ring wa­ter­fall mishaps: coun­cil­lor

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - NICOLE O’REILLY

A MAN CLIMB­ING down the gorge at Web­ster Falls slips and falls onto a woman, send­ing her fall­ing six me­tres to the bottom.

There, the woman — who has suf­fered mi­nor in­juries — is joined by more than a dozen other peo­ple, some with scrapes, wait­ing for Hamil­ton fire­fight­ers to help on a hot late af­ter­noon this past Sun­day.

It will take more than two hours for the spe­cially trained fire­fight­ers to get set up and use a se­ries of ny­lon ropes and safety gear to pull the woman and three others to the top. Mean­while, the other roughly dozen peo­ple below find their own way hik­ing out, re­fus­ing help from fire­fight­ers who want to take them on a dif­fer­ent route.

This chaotic scene is the lat­est in a string

Fire­fight­ers have re­sponded to 13 calls for high-an­gle rope res­cues so far this year. By­law of­fi­cers have handed out seven fines.

of high-an­gle rope res­cues at Hamil­ton wa­ter­falls that hap­pen when peo­ple ig­nore warn­ings and signs, go­ing off the of­fi­cial trails.

There have been 13 calls for rope res­cues so far this year. Eight of those times, fire­fight­ers had to ac­tu­ally use a har­ness or stretcher to lift some­one out. This in­cludes one fa­tal­ity — a Toronto pho­tog­ra­pher lost his foot­ing and plunged to his death at Al­bion Falls.

Last year, there were 29 calls, 23 of which ended in ac­tual rope res­cues. This was an in­crease from 19 calls in 2015 and 20 calls in 2014, ac­cord­ing to Hamil­ton Fire Depart­ment num­bers pro­vided to The Spec­ta­tor.

Al­bion Falls has been at the cen­tre of the pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal back­lash over peo­ple ig­nor­ing safety warn­ings and tres­pass­ing.

This has led the city to bol­ster safety fea­tures, in­clud­ing adding $75,000 worth of fenc­ing and in­creas­ing tick­et­ing en­force­ment of tres­passers.

City by­law has handed out seven fines — a zero-tol­er­ance $130 penalty — in the first two weeks since in­creas­ing en­force­ment against tres­passers at Al­bion Falls.

Coun. Sam Merulla says the Al­bion Falls en­force­ment is “ab­so­lutely” work­ing.

“We only had one call on the week­end and that was for a med­i­cal emer­gency,” he said. “It’s been a sig­nif­i­cant de­ter­rent.”

At Web­ster Falls, the Hamil­ton Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity is work­ing with city com­mit­tees so they have a uni­form re­sponse to is­sues at wa­ter­falls. This in­cludes look­ing at more sig­nage and fenc­ing, said Gord Costie, di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion area ser­vices.

This year, to stem the flow of traf­fic and prob­lems with parked cars in the area, the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity has set up a shut­tle ser­vice to take visi­tors to Tew and Web­ster Falls. More than 5,000 cars have been di­verted, he said.

Costie said visi­tors are warned dur­ing the shut­tle ride to stay on of­fi­cial trails and view­ing plat­forms. They are also warned about peo­ple who tres­pass and end up need­ing rope res­cues.

At Web­ster, there are signs warn­ing visi­tors to stay out of the wa­ter and off dan­ger­ous cliffs and steep slopes. The con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity also re­moved the old stairs down to the bottom a cou­ple of years ago.

The is­sue is some peo­ple can ac­cess the bottom of the gorge by tres­pass­ing on neigh­bour­ing pri­vate prop­erty. “We have no in­ten­tion of fenc­ing en­tire es­carp­ment. That’s not rea­son­able,” Costie said. “At some point, peo­ple need to be ac­count­able for the own safety.”

The con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity wants peo­ple to visit wa­ter­falls and nat­u­ral ar­eas, but visi­tors need to “re­spect na­ture at a safe dis­tance,” Costie said. “Con­nect not con­quer.”

For the Hamil­ton Fire Depart­ment, high-an­gle rope res­cues have al­ways been part of the job. Many fire­fight­ers, in­clud­ing all new re­cruits, re­ceive train­ing that’s up­dated monthly.

John Ver­beek, as­sis­tant deputy fire chief, said it’s up to the city and other agen­cies to tell peo­ple how to be­have on trails; the fire depart­ment is sim­ply the re­sponse agency if things go wrong.

“It doesn’t mat­ter how it hap­pened,” he said. “The re­sponse is the same.”

Ver­beek said it’s im­pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late how much each rope res­cue costs, as the fire­fight­ers were work­ing any­ways.

When that call does hap­pen, a team of 16 to 20 fire­fight­ers goes to the scene, said Act­ing District Chief Wayne Triem­stra. There is al­ways an in­ci­dent com­man­der, usu­ally a district or pla­toon chief.

There is also the high-an­glerope-res­cue (HARR) sec­tor, a spe­cially trained tech­ni­cian and a safety of­fi­cer who makes sure every­one is se­curely tied be­fore go­ing over, Triem­stra said.

Once they find the pa­tient, there are al­ways two peo­ple on the team who an­chor them­selves and, us­ing ropes, go down to as­sess the per­son and ter­rain. At the same time, an­other team se­cures the an­chor and pul­ley sys­tem. Once set, the four fire­fight­ers se­cure the pa­tient to­gether.

The op­er­a­tion can in­volve help­ing a pa­tient out on foot, se­cur­ing them in a har­ness or putting them in a stretcher bas­ket, Triem­stra noted.

The ny­lon ropes are colour-coded — one for each res­cue and bas­ket. At the scene, fire­fight­ers also have their full first aid kit, por­ta­ble lights and a wheeled car­riage that can carry the stretcher bas­ket.

Each res­cue is dif­fer­ent, with so many vari­ables af­fect­ing how long and how they bring injured and stuck peo­ple to safety.


Four peo­ple were res­cued from Greensville’s Web­ster Falls last week­end. The con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity’s Gord Costie says it won’t fence off the en­tire es­carp­ment. “At some point, peo­ple need to be acount­able for their own safety.”

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