Hamilton

Hamilton won't charge user fees for rope rescues at its waterfalls

Hamilton's fire chief says user fees would deter people in trouble from calling for help, and even endanger more lives if their friends try to help.

Instead, it'll look at creating a map of unsafe spots on the Niagara Escarpment

Rope rescues use a lot of resources and require specialized equipment and training. Still, Hamilton fire officials are saying charging user fees for the rescues will cause problems. (Dave Ritchie/CBC)

Hamilton officials won't charge user fees for rope rescues at its waterfalls after its fire chief warned it would deter people from calling for help.

I don't want to reach a point where I'm legislating behaviour, and I'm resisting that as much as I possibly can.- Coun . Tom Jackson

Chief David Cunliffe told city council's emergency and community services committee that he has "significant concerns" with charging for rope rescues. People who fall and need help may not call because of the fee, he said. And their friends might try to help instead, endangering more lives.

"A user fee may deter someone in trouble from making a phone call," he said Monday. And if their friends help, it raises the risk of more people dying.

City councillors accepted that and didn't act on the idea. Instead, they'll look into making a map of trouble spots on the Niagara Escarpment. 

Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 also has a group of emergency and communications people who will look at ways to make waterfalls safer. That group will meet again in the spring, and consider the map option.

That group is looking at signs, public education and even long-term capital projects like tunnels under waterfalls.

"I don't want to reach a point where I'm legislating behaviour, and I'm resisting that as much as I possibly can," Jackson said.

Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, said user fees don't seem like a bad idea in cases where people are clearly being reckless. At Chedoke Falls, for example, people have cut through fences. Taxpayers shouldn't pay for that, he said.

We have people making very poor choices and there's no deterrent for those poor choices.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

"We have people making very poor choices and there's no deterrent for those poor choices."

The department reviewed the idea of user fees after local fire crews answered 25 rope rescue at the city's waterfalls – the largest number in at least seven years.

The majority of the calls were to rescue Hamilton residents. In 2016, 73 per cent of people rescued lived here, compared to 27 per cent non-residents.

That's roughly in line with other years. In 2014, for example, 64 per cent of people were residents compared to 36 per cent non-residents.

Most current locations of rescue calls:

  • Tews Falls: 11.
  • Webster's Falls: 10.
  • Albion Falls: 17.
  • Devil's Punch Bowl: 10.
  • Felker's Falls: 3.

Some of the calls also happened on other escarpment locations, such as Mountain Brow, the Kenilworth Stairs and the Garth Stairs.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.