Blue Line

Police shed more light on deaths of boater, volunteer firefighter

June 12, 2023  By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

June 12, 2023, Bayfield, Ont. – A rescue call that ended with the deaths of a boat operator and volunteer firefighter started when two people fell off a personal watercraft near the Lake Huron town of Bayfield, provincial police say.

Emergency crews were called to a boat operator in distress near Bayfield, a Huron County beach town north of London, just before 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Huron OPP said.

Two people had fallen off a personal watercraft about 100 meters from the shore as the vessel started moving in a “circular motion,” police spokesperson Const. Craig Soldan said Monday. He said it was unclear what caused the personal watercraft to keep moving.

After falling off the personal watercraft, the operator was trying to get the passenger to shore, Soldan said. A witness jumped in to help and the passenger made it without injury, he said.

A 32-year-old man from Bluewater – the municipality that includes the communities of Bayfield, Hensall and Zurich – was brought to shore but died at the scene, police said.

After, one of the firefighters who went down to the beach to assist had “collapsed” from a medical emergency, Soldan said.

“There were other people on scene that were immediately tending to him, providing first-aid CPR, and despite their best efforts, he didn’t survive.”

The 46-year-old volunteer firefighter from Bluewater was taken to Goderich hospital, where he died.

In an online statement, Municipality of Bluewater officials said “a firefighter has passed away in the line of duty due to natural causes,” and that the municipality was mourning the loss alongside the family.

The causes of the two deaths have yet to be determined, police said, noting post-mortem exams had been scheduled for both.

Bill Whetstone, a Bluewater councillor whose ward takes in Bayfield, said a formal funeral service featuring a procession and honour guard will be held for the firefighter.

“His widow has chosen that, and we will be planning on putting that together,” he said, adding that the date hasn’t been set.

Whetstone, who declined to share details about the man’s identity out of respect for the family’s privacy, said the local firefighter was a well-known businessperson.

“Not only did he have a business perspective here, but he did a lot of his work in support of (the community) from a volunteer perspective, too. Anytime he was called upon, for him from a service club aspect or if something was happening, he would provide his services. He was a great person . . . and he’ll be sorely missed.”

The fallout of this weekend’s incident rippled from community members to fire departments across the province, with many taking to social media to offer their condolences to the men’s families.

“Our hearts are heavy with the loss of a local hero and a member of another well-known family in Bayfield,” the Bayfield and Area Chamber of Commerce wrote on Facebook.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the fallen Bluewater firefighter and the young man he attempted to rescue.”

The flags at all municipal buildings have been lowered to half-mast to honour the two men.

“This community always rallies with each other,” Whetstone said. “When things go in the wrong direction, we pull up our socks and join together.”

– London Free Press

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