Flooded headquarters leave marine rescuers at sea

GRIMSBY, Ont. (May 13, 2019) — The volunteer marine rescue squad that excels at saving people on the water suddenly needs rescuing from it.

The storage facility used by GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue was inundated by water from Lake Ontario last week, a deluge that flooded the volunteers’ office and the space used to store rescue equipment and supplies for the team’s two rescue boats. 

The facility, in the park on the waterfront at the foot of Elizabeth St., had more than a foot of water covering the floors and storage areas by Thursday afternoon. It is the third time the facility has flooded in the past three years. 

“It’s too early to say exactly the extent of the damage,” said unit leader Bob Gordon. “We’ve taken some precautions based on our past experience but until we can get in there safely, we won’t know what we’re facing.” 

“What is clear already is that we need a new home,” said Gordon. The facility is a garage donated by the Town of Grimsby. The volunteers have begun an urgent search for a new location for the year-round storage of their equipment and the seasonal storage of their fast response rescue boat. They are appealing to the community for help. 

Lake Ontario waters have risen steadily this spring with more rain in the forecast. Cities like St. Catharines, Hamilton, Toronto and communities in eastern Ontario have already begun preparations for high water levels. Although not yet at the heights recorded in 2017, the high water and strong north-easterly winds have pushed the lake up into low-lying areas like Grimsby’s Forty Mile Creek Park and the volunteers’ storage facility. 

The volunteers had a record year for rescue missions in 2018, when the teams were called out 38 times. In the past three years, they have answered 100 rescue calls. The group’s two rescue boats have already been launched for this season and crews are on 24/7 standby.

Busy rescue pros take time to mentor south shore volunteers

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — First they found Oscar floating lifeless in the water. Then they reassured him he would be alright as they carefully loaded him into their rescue boat, treated him for hypothermia and strapped him to a backboard as they made their way to safety.

Oscar, a life-like dummy in an orange lifejacket, is reported to be recovering from his ordeal.

The volunteers of GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue capped a busy season of training on the water this fall with a realistic exercise staged under the watchful eye of the professionals of the Canadian Coast Guard SAR Station Port Weller.

The exercise — retrieving a hypothermic victim from the chilly waters of Lake Ontario — is just one of nearly a dozen instances where the seasoned veterans of the Weller station shared their knowledge with volunteer groups and other agencies responsible for the safety of mariners on western Lake Ontario. And while passing along their skills isn’t the first responsibility for the rotating four-person Weller crew, it’s something they enjoy.

“They say the best way to learn is to teach,” explains Marcel Leger, commanding officer of the base. “We can learn things too.”

“This is incredibly valuable for us,” adds GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue unit leader Bob Gordon. “Everyone at Weller has been very patient and forthcoming with their advice and expertise. They’re a real fountain of first-hand knowledge. It’s a tremendous resource for our people.”

Both organizations fit training into a busy summer boating season that has seen a significant number of rescue missions. Observers agree there is no single reason for the increase in boating activity and incidents on the water but point to a strong economy, a hot summer season, moderate fuel prices and new, inexpensive water sports like paddle boarding and kayaking that draw people to the water.

The Weller staff and the GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue volunteers have begun discussions on new training exercises when the boating season begins again in the spring. “We still have lots we can learn from the professionals,” says GAMRU leader Gordon.

GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue will maintain a vessel and crew into November. Canadian Coast Guard SAR Station Port Weller will operate until mid-December.

Marine rescue volunteers set new record with one more month of boating

GRIMSBY, Ont. (Aug. 28, 2018) — With at least a month still left in a busy boating season, the volunteers of GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue have topped their own record for rescue missions in one year.

A call on Monday afternoon pushed the group’s total number of rescue missions this year to 35. The previous record of 34 rescue calls in a season was set in 2016. 

The number and variety of rescue calls has unit leader Bob Gordon scratching his head. 

“You can’t point to one single factor behind the high number of calls,” he says. “Certainly, the weather’s been good and there are lots of people on the water. Fuel prices have been moderate, so people are getting lots of use from their boats. And with more small, affordable craft like canoes, kayaks and paddle boards available, perhaps more people are enjoying the water.” 

The high volume of calls has put stress on the volunteers’ vessels. Their all-weather 34’ steel boat has been out of service for the past two weeks with mechanical problems, leaving just one boat to handle the calls. 

As with other years, the rescues have included everything from vessels disabled by mechanical problems to lost and overdue vessels, to victims in the water and health emergencies, Gordon says. 

GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue ended the 2017 boating season with 28 rescue calls.

Kids Day Derby 2018

Critical emergency gear on route to marine rescuers after surprise donation

GRIMSBY, Ontario (July 26, 2018) — A long list of vital life-saving equipment is in the hands of the volunteers of GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue thanks to a fast response to a request for help from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada.

The list includes new pumps, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and other medical equipment, upgraded navigation systems, towing hardware and search lights for the volunteers’ two rescue vessels. The $27,000 grant for the equipment comes from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada, the philanthropic arm of Firehouse Subs.

The equipment will go into immediate service with one of the busiest marine search and rescue operations in the region. Last season, GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue volunteers responded to 28 calls to aid boaters on Lake Ontario.

“We were stunned at the speed and thoroughness of the response to our request,” explains Denise Tulk, director of fundraising for the group. “So many funding organizations are remote and faceless — you submit an application and then you hear nothing for months. But the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada people understand what we do and the importance of the equipment we use.”

The application had the support and encouragement of Niagara Falls Firehouse Subs franchise owner Vishal Patel.

“Giving back to our first responders is the primary goal of the Foundation,” said Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada Executive Director Robin Peters. “We’re in a very fortunate position that allows us to work together with Firehouse Subs restaurants to raise funds that help provide lifesaving equipment locally and throughout the country. Thanks to the generosity of so many people, we’re able to make a difference.”

“So much of our equipment is old and well-used and in need of replacement,” explained GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue chief of operations Ben Upper. “We desperately needed this equipment and the timing of this donation was perfect.”

In 2005, the Firehouse Subs founders established Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation in the U.S. with the mission of providing funding, lifesaving equipment, and educational opportunities to first-responders and public safety organizations. Ten years later, with the opening of the first Canadian Firehouse Subs restaurant in 2015, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada was born. Through the non-profit 501(c)(3), Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation of Canada has granted more than $276,000 to hometown heroes in Canada.

The first of an expanding list of Firehouse Subs restaurants in the region are open in Niagara Falls and Stoney Creek, Ontario. There are currently 16 Firehouse Subs locations in Canada.

Founded in 1988, GAMRU South Shore Search And Rescue is the only dedicated marine search and rescue organization on the south shore of Lake Ontario from Hamilton to Port Weller. More than 30 active volunteers maintain fully-equipped rescue vessels and train year-round to maintain the skills and readiness to be effective on the water. The organization gets no government funding for operations. GAMRU is a member of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and a registered charity.