Hamilton

Think rope rescues are up in Hamilton? Think again

It has seemed like a summer full of rope rescues at Hamilton’s waterfalls in recent months, as firefighters work to save people who have fallen down some steep paths or sheer cliffs.

Despite two deaths in 2016, rope rescues not more of a concern, says fire department

Hamilton firefighters conducted a rope rescue at Spencer Gorge/Webster's Falls Monday night. (David Ritchie)

It has seemed like a summer full of rope rescues at Hamilton's waterfalls and trails in recent months, as firefighters work to save people who have fallen down some steep paths or sheer cliffs.

But according to data obtained by CBC News, local firefighters are not dealing with a spike in rope rescues across the Escarpment this year. But with two fatal falls in recent months, increased scrutiny has been levied at the resources being marshaled, and the adequacy of safety measures protecting people in these natural spaces.

Firefighters have had a total of 163 rope rescue calls since 2005, records show.

There have been 15 rope rescues so far this year, compared to 19 last year and 20 in 2014.

That's somewhat higher than the 13 rope rescue calls fire crews received in 2010 and 2011. That's likely a function of Hamilton's resurgence as a "city of waterfalls" bringing more people to those areas, said Claudio Mostacci, public information officer for Hamilton fire.

We're not going to put a cost on this. We're on duty, and this is part of the job.- Claudio Mostacci , Hamilton fire public information officer

"I think what's happening is we're getting more exposure," he said, adding that on the whole, rope rescue numbers have stayed fairly stable.

"The stats don't lie," he said.

But the statistics provided by the fire department are limited in scope. They do not provide insight into the circumstances that led to a person's fall, if they were injured, and if so, just how serious their injuries were. No information was provided on number of fatal falls since 2005.

As well, not all of those 163 calls sent trucks to local waterfalls. Many are for area escarpment paths, while some others are for things like industrial rescues, Mostacci said. That's another limitation of the data, as it does not state exactly what sort of path a person might be on from each call.

Not all of these calls even represent an actual rope rescue, Mostacci cautioned. They only indicate a rope rescue call, and don't account for a person who ends up walking out of an area of their own power, which does happen, he said.

Seventeen of the calls, or just over 1 in 10, came between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Of the waterfall rope rescue calls, Tews Falls was the most frequented area, followed by the Devil's Punchbowl and Albion Falls. 

After a 21-year-old man was hospitalized after sliding down Albion Falls earlier this year, the city examined increased safety at the popular site.

"We've looked at fencing in the past," Tennessee Propedo, the director of city parks, said at the time. "The biggest problem is that [the waterfall] is part of the escarpment, which is a living, breathing creature."

'It's part of the job'

If the city or Hamilton Conservation Authority installed fencing, the footings to hold it securely would have to be placed far enough back to avoid splitting the rock and further eroding the ridge, he said.

That would impede the aesthetic appeal of the waterfalls, he said. And people would get curious about what was behind that fence and climb around it anyway.

Mostacci says he has seen a sentiment online where people say that firefighters should start charging for rope rescues. That, he said, doesn't really make sense.

"So do we start charging people for when we go to a pot left on the stove?" he asked. "We have so many cooking fires — but things happen, and we take care of it.

"We're not going to put a cost on this. We're on duty, and this is part of the job."

That said, Mostacci still cautions people that heading to local waterfalls in low light or with alcohol in your system is a poor decision.

"Not to pass judgement — but when you're going out to these places, you have to be aware of your surroundings." 

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Samantha Craggs