Rope rescues down substantially after upgraded waterfall safety measures, say Hamilton fire officials

Visitors to Hamilton waterfalls, including Albion Falls, are encouraged to heed nearby signage. Hamilton Conservation Authority

The City of Hamilton’s efforts to reduce deaths and injuries at the area’s waterfalls and cliffs appears to be paying off.

The Hamilton Fire Department says the number of rope rescues is down substantially from year to year, and it appears action from the city’s parks department — using more fences and signage — has worked.

Deputy Chief John Verbeek says firefighters have been summoned to just four rope rescues so far in 2019. That’s down from seven in 2018.

That’s a steady decrease compared to 2017 and 2016, in which there were 15 and 23 rope rescues, respectively.

READ MORE: Man falls to his death near Dundas Peak Trail in Hamilton

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Verbeek says that in a typical rope rescue, six fire units are dispatched with 18 personnel on scene to assist. He says the duration of one of those calls can range anywhere from one to five hours to complete a rescue.

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“It’s difficult to estimate, since each call is unique and dependent on factors such as location, accessibility to patients, number of patients, extent of injuries,” Verbeek told Global News. “If l look at the four calls for 2019, they range from one hour 16 minutes, one hour 40 minutes, three hours 32 minutes and four hours 59 minutes.”

Trouble spots like the Devil’s Punchbowl in Stoney Creek, Webster Falls and Albion Falls on the East Mountain have been areas the city has recently targeted with warnings and barricades to deter dangerous behaviour.

LISTEN: Jamie West talks to Hamilton Parks Manager Kara Bunn about safety around the city’s water attractions 


Parks manager Kara Bunn told Global News these water attractions have had a lot of rope rescues in recent years and that some of the incidents involved injuries.

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“A lot of people are trying to get into a more dangerous area to get a better view or to be in the waterfall to grab that selfie so that they can get the bigger, better selfie than the next person,” said Bunn.

“It’s been a concern for us, and we’ve been trying to create areas where people can go and get a selfie still, but it’s safe.”

WATCH (Aug. 7, 2017): Hamilton emergency officials respond to 2 waterfall rescues

Click to play video: 'Hamilton emergency officials respond to 2 waterfall rescues'
Hamilton emergency officials respond to 2 waterfall rescues

Bunn says the city started putting up fencing in 2017 around the popular areas that were deemed unsafe, as well as a lot of signage telling people to stay on the trails and not climb the rocks in addition to using maps to inform people where safe viewing platforms are located.

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The issue is also one of a legal nature, according to Bunn, who says the city has had lawsuits about the lack of signage and fencing in the past.

“When we realized that signage wasn’t enough because people kept flocking to the waterfalls, we decided that to keep everybody safe we needed to make sure … that we were making people make the correct decision about where to view the platform,” Bunn said.

In 2018, Hamilton city council approved an additional $132,000 on proactive safety enforcement at Hamilton’s waterfalls.

The program is primarily meant to address safety concerns at Albion Falls after a 23-year-old Mississauga man fell from the snow- and ice-covered cliff there in 2016.

READ MORE: Lawsuit filed against City of Hamilton related to Albion Falls plunge

Corey Dixon sued the city for $390,000 in 2018 after breaking 30 bones and rupturing his spleen. Dixon claimed the nearby stairs were not fenced or well lit.

In areas like Webster Falls, where fencing and signage are not possible, proactive safety enforcement teams have been deployed on foot, educating people and handing out tickets for encroachment in unauthorized areas.

“In the early days, we saw people who were climbing fences and handing babies over the fence and showing up in wedding dresses and high heels,” Bunn said about reports of some visitors to Webster Falls. “Now, we have law enforcement teams out there educating people and, where necessary, handing out tickets and making sure that people stay in the authorized area.”


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