Emergency Equipment First Response at Sandy Haven

By Sam Goodwin (Municipal Liaison Committee – UFRCA)
Posted June 17, 2014

Health and safety on the Upper French River is an important issue and ongoing concern for members of the UFCRA.  We are all aware that this place we love to spend time at is also remote and rugged, and that in the event of an accident or illness, it’s just not going to be possible to get the same kind of access to emergency medical services that we would at home.

And so this year, the UFRCA has been working on something a little different but also something that we believe has the potential to make a real difference to the health and safety of everyone on the Upper French River, regardless of whether you’re a cottager or a visitor to the area and even if you’re not a member of the UFRCA.  

That “something different” is a pilot project to test how effective it would be to have some basic emergency equipment available at Sandy Haven Fishing Camp and a team of volunteers that could use that equipment to be first responders in emergency situations.

Getting this project underway has been a partnership between the UFRCA and the Municipality of West Nipissing, including the Chief Administrative Officer Jay Barbeau, the Fire Service Chief Richard Maranda, and officials from Emergency Medical Services (EMS).  When the UFRCA approached the Municipality with this idea, the response was an unqualified and enthusiastic “Yes!”,   followed closely by “How can we help?”

Here are the details of what is just now getting underway and what will be happening over the next several weeks:

1. Sandy Haven Camp (Todd Thomas, Owner) will be the host site for the Emergency Equipment and Todd will be the custodian of the equipment – all of which has been generously loaned by Municipality of West Nipissing EMS and Fire Services and consists of a professional emergency kit, a basket stretcher, and an AED (defibrillator).

2. Todd has also taken on the role to identify and coordinate a small team of volunteers who are near Sandy Haven, who preferably are at their cottages frequently or for much of the summer, and who are already trained or have agreed to be trained.  That training, which Todd will coordinate through West Nipissing EMS, will likely include First Aid, CPR, and the use of an AED.  These volunteers, if available at the time an emergency call is received, will be prepared to assist Todd in responding. 

3. The emergency kit and basket stretcher are already in place at Sandy Haven and the AED is expected to arrive shortly.  In the next few weeks, Todd will be installing the equipment in a dedicated shed (provided by the UFRCA) that will be clearly marked with an “AED located here” sign and easily visible from and close to the gas dock.
4. Todd is also investigating having the AED tied into the Bell phone line so that a call automatically goes to 911 when the device is removed (which was identified by EMS as the preferred approach).

5. Once the members of the volunteer team are confirmed, a phone list will be put together and posted on the UFCRA website.  Copies will also be available at various locations such Sandy Haven, Starlite Marina in Sturgeon Falls, and Riverview Cottages at Dokis.

This pilot project is going to run for at least two years (two full cottage seasons) at the end of which the UFCRA will assess whether it's been useful and look at the potential for other sites to be established.
So, that’s the basic set up of the program and its current status.  But it's also important for everyone to be clear from the outset on what program is and isn’t and what Todd and the volunteers will be doing and not doing. 

1. This will not be a self-serve program – Todd has the equipment in his care and the expectation is that anyone in need will contact either him or one of the other trained volunteers (once the team is in place) when the need arises.  Todd and/or other volunteers will bring the equipment to the location.

2. The team of volunteers are not replacements for EMS.  They will have the training and basic equipment to be a form of “first response” to emergency calls from people in need.  As first responders, their job will be to try to stabilize individuals until professional EMS staff can arrive. 
People who contact Todd (or, once the team is in place, one of the other trained volunteers) will also need to call 911 so that EMS can initiate their response.

3. Todd and the team of volunteers will be doing this on as “as available” basis, which is the same approach used for other emergency first response teams that have been set up across Ontario.  This means that there is no guarantee that any or all team members will be available in a crisis situation and if and when this occurs, the call to 911 and dispatching of EMS becomes the first response.

4. Upon receipt of the 911 call, EMS staff will be dispatched via the new MWN Fire Department boat, which is moored at the new Minnehaha Bay Municipal Marina in Sturgeon Falls.  EMS officials anticipate that their response time will be approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour under ideal conditions, which is a significant improvement over the former situation where it was necessary to dispatch a police boat.
In closing, UFRCA wants to offer it's very sincere thanks to the Council of the Municipality of West Nipissing for their support for this initiative and for the efforts of Jay Barbeau (Chief Administrative Officer), Richard Maranda (Fire Services Chief) and all of the EMS staff at the Municipality of West Nipissing for responding so quickly and emphatically to both of these projects.  The “time to market” for both initiatives has been extremely quick and our municipal partners have demonstrated considerable creativity, resourcefulness, and generosity in helping us achieve our goal of making the Upper French River a safer place for cottagers and visitors alike.
Once we have the list of volunteer team members, we will send it out by email to UFCRA members and paper copies will also be available at the various locations as noted above.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about this initiative, you can send an email to Sam Goodwin on behalf of the UFCRA Board of Directors at  Sam will also be at the UFCRA Annual General Meeting at Dokis on Sunday August 3 and will provide a brief overview and be able to respond to any questions then.

Emergency – Call 911 

Because the Upper French River area is relatively remote, emergency issues can be a concern. The 911 telephone emergency system was implemented in 2004 but the system was not fully operational until the late summer of 2006.

The 911 system is only effective within Bertram Township (Municipality of West Nipissing) where all cottages have a blue “911 address sign” posted near their dock. When you phone 911 from a land-line phone, your cottage address and GPS coordinates will (or are supposed to) appear on the computer screen at the OPP Regional Detachment in North Bay.

If you phone 911 from a location in Hardy or Patterson Townships (south side), make sure you have your cottage coordinates and directions. This applies also if you are using a cell phone anywhere as the OPP will not know where you are.

On-Land Policing
West Nipissing Police deal with on-land policing issues (such as break-ins) on the north side of the river in Bertram Township.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) deal with on-land issues on the south side of the river in Hardy and Patterson Townships - Parry Sound District.

On-Water Policing

The OPP deal with on-water issues in all locations on Lake Nipissing and the French River, not to mention all other lakes in the province. West Nipissing Police and the Anishnabeck Police Force also have marine units, as do Conservation Officers from the Ministry of Natural Resources and French River Provincial Park. All can and do monitor and enforce boating regulations. 

List Of Emergency Contacts For The Upper French River

Police - OPP: 911 or 1-888-310-1122 or Cell Phone - *OPP ( *677) Note that a cell phone does not reveal your location or your cottage 911 address. Know your cottage location (latitude, longitude) and your cottage 911 civic address if you have one. Calls to 911 are received in North Bay at the OPP Regional Detachment.

Police - West Nipissing:  705-753-1234

Fire - West Nipissing- Sturgeon Falls: 705-753-1170

Fire - Monettevile: 705-898-3399

Also see the “Printable Contact Sheet” for fire pump locations on the river.

West Nipissing General Hospital: 705-753-3110

Poison Information Centre: 1-800-268-9017

Air Ambulance: 911 

Marine Air – Sea Rescue: 1-800-267-7270

Ministry of Natural Resources: 705-475-5550 (North Bay)

Ministry of Natural Resources - Forest Fire Reporting: 1-888-863-3473

North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority: 705-474-5420 (North Bay)

Ministry Of Environment District Office: 705-497-6865 (North Bay)

Ministry Of Environment - Spill Reporting 1-800-268-6060

911 Development


On February 20th, 2003, Bill Goodwin, David Goodwin, and Jim Hardy met with Jay Barbeau, Chief Administrative Officer of the town of West Nipissing, to discuss 911 service for the Upper French River. In the fall of 2002, the 911 service had been implemented throughout most of West Nipissing district; however, the 911 program had not typically covered cottages on lakes and rivers. The Upper French River was not included in the initial launch, and we asked Barbeau to formally consider this service for the French River.

The UFRCA noted that the real emergency response times enabled with 911 service could save a cottager’s life. Barbeau was supportive of the idea, and as a result, UFRCA submitted a formal request to West Nipissing. As a result of the request, a motion was introduced to the local council in support of this request. The motion, after further review by council, was adopted.

The adoption of the 911 program for the West Nipissing township cottagers on the Upper French River has involved the GPS mapping of the Upper French River cottages, including latitude and longitude coordinates, to give their precise location. Additionally, every cottage property has received an assigned number that would be posted for identification purposes. Therefore, when a cottager has an emergency and calls 911, both the Police and Fire Department will know exactly where the cottage is located and will be able to respond immediately.


The West Nipissing Police Service worked with Bell Canada to determine the location of the signs on cottage properties. The signage started to go on properties in the fall of 2003 and was completed by the spring of 2004. WNPS applied for a grant to employ two individuals to visit all of the cottages on the Upper French River in the West Nipissing district to obtain the GPS coordinates. They were trained by the police, given full identification, and made themselves available to answer any questions cottagers might have when visiting.

The signs are posted close to the cottage or dock. There is no specific guideline on location, as there is with sign-placement by-laws in other rural areas. The location is up to the discretion of the WNPS. The signs are placed in a location that is easy to view and access from the water, preferably near a dock. 

Removal of the sign is illegal. Call the WNPS at (705) 753-1234 to arrange for a site visit to discuss moving it to another location if desired.  The signs are 5” x 20”, larger than the 5” x 10” normal rural property signs, as they hold more information.  The Upper French River signs start with W for West Nipissing, other letters such as B for Bertram Township, SA for Sandy Island, etc., and then the island or location number (a 3- to 4-digit number).
  •  The WB is for West Nipissing - Bertram Township
  • The 164 is for Island #164
  • The -1 refers to the number of the property  (there could be more than 1)
The full program was activated sometime in the summer of 2004. The WNPS met with Bell Canada in December 2003 and gave them all the information including existing phone lines, GPS coordinates, etc. The review took one month to complete. Then the information was sent to the Bell office in Quebec where it took 3-5 months to have it fully programmed and implemented.


Unfortunately, the 911 service is only for cottage residents of Bertram Township since the cost of the program was supported by the Municipality of West Nipissing at a cost of $30 000. Bertram Township is the region north of the boundary running down the middle of the Upper French River from Lake Nipissing to Dokis. At this time, Hardy and Patterson Townships (south of the line) are “unorganized” (i.e. there is no organized government), and there are no plans to approve or implement a 911 system for cottagers on the south side of the river.

Also, those cottages that only have cell phones will not be able to participate in the system since a permanent phone line is needed to identify the cottage and coordinates. However, it is recommended that any cottage that has a cell phone obtain their GPS coordinates in case of an emergency.

(Then) Chief Lahie has asked our West Nipissing members who use a cell phone, to contact them at 705-753-1234 if you have to make an emergency call. If you call 911, it will first go to the OPP district office in North Bay and they will not know where you calling from. It would then have to be transferred to the West Nipissing office.

The West Nipissing Police will not bring out paramedics to your cottage and transport you to Sturgeon Falls. They are simply not equipped to offer that service. Instead, if you need to be transported to a hospital, they will work with you to coordinate an air ambulance to retrieve the injured person from the site or a landing site.