Coast Guard aids in medical emergency while Wolfe Islander III out of service

The Canadian Coast Guard’s Cape Rescue docked at Portsmouth Olympic Habour. Photo by Logan Cadue/Kingstonist.

A series of unfortunate events on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, led to quick response from first responders trying to get a Wolfe Island resident emergency medical attention.

While it is no secret that the Wolfe Islander III, the ferry that currently serves those travelling to and from Wolfe Island daily, has been riddled with service disruptions for several months – reportedly due to staff shortages, according to the Ministry of Transportation for Ontario (MTO) – the events on Monday were further compounded by the same issue in another sector: paramedic services.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on Monday, a Wolfe Island resident experiencing a medical emergency called for an ambulance in order to be taken to hospital. Generally, when an emergency occurs on Wolfe Island requiring paramedics and/or other first responders, the Wolfe Islander III alters its schedule to expedite emergency response. The paramedic on the Island – a member of Frontenac Paramedic Services – would also respond to the call, picking up and transporting the patient to the ferry dock, onto the ferry, and to hospital once docked at Kingston.

On Monday, the Wolfe Islander III began that process. Using Twitter to convey messaging to those who use the ferry (which is the standard mode of communication for the ferry services currently), the Wolfe Islander III tweeted “Wolfe Islander off schedule due to ambulance call” at 5:42 p.m. However, there wasn’t a paramedic on the Island to attend to and transport the patient in need of emergency medical attention.

According to Frontenac Paramedic Services (which serves all of Kingston, Frontenac County, and some of the surrounding area), the Wolfe Island paramedic station is to be staffed for an eight-hour on-the-clock shift, followed by a 16-hour on-call shift, during which the paramedic on duty can sleep in the station. However, “pandemic-related staffing pressures affect everyone in health care, including Frontenac Paramedics,” according to a Frontenac Paramedics spokesperson.

“The Wolfe Island base is down-staffed when demand is high for service on the mainland or when there aren’t enough paramedics on duty to staff all the open shifts in Kingston. That is why there wasn’t a paramedic crew already on Wolfe Island,” the spokesperson continued.

“It’s simply a fact right now that a crew stationed on Wolfe Island is likely to sit idle during most of their shifts while that same crew stationed in Kingston would be fully utilized serving patients.”

To further complicate matters, at 6:21 p.m., the ferry was suddenly out of service.

“Wolfe Islander out of service due to mechanical failure of ferry ramp system. Repair time unknown. Will update when ferry will be back in service,” the Wolfe Islander III tweeted.

With a resident on the island requiring emergency medical attention, no paramedic on the island, and the ferry out of service, quick thinking was employed, and the Wolfe Island Fire Department sent a fire truck to aid the patient. Attempts were made to bring in Ornge, Ontario’s air ambulance helicopter service, however, “the crew was unable to land safely on the island due to high winds,” according to Frontenac Paramedics.

At that time, the Canadian Coast Guard was called in to assist. Arriving at the currently out-of-use Marysville dock on Wolfe Island (which is currently under construction and scheduled for a large amount of paving work on Thursday, Nov. 24 and Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, which is likely to lead to further delays), the Coast Guard, working with Wolfe Island Fire, was able to pick up the patient. Despite the high winds at the time, the Coast Guard then safely arrived at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour in Kingston, where the patient was transferred to awaiting Frontenac Paramedics by 7:30 p.m.

By that time, the Wolfe Islander III was back up and running.

Thankfully, despite all the issues that unexpectedly popped up, the patient, who had suffered an injury, according to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), was safely delivered to hospital for treatment.

According to the Coast Guard, while traversing the St. Lawrence River that night, winds were “approximately 30 knots, with waves as high as 1.5 metres during the rescue vessel’s transit to Marysville.”

“Ashore, Coast Guard radio operators in Prescott, Ont., and personnel at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., played a key role in this rescue, coordinating and communicating with all parties involved (CCG, Wolfe Island fire, Frontenac [Paramedics]),” said Jeremy Hennessy, Communications Officer for the Canadian Coast Guard, pointing to the amount of teamwork and cooperation necessary for such a mission to take place.

“CCG crews train regularly to ensure emergency preparedness at all times. Emergencies happen in various types of weather and the elements are often not favourable,” Hennessy continued in an email to Kingstonist.

“The CCG has search and rescue stations across Canada – including nine in Ontario – to provide search and rescue services to those in need. Along with our partners, we assist people, vessels, and aircraft that are in imminent danger. Our main objective is to save 100 per cent of lives at risk. The rescue carried out by the Kingston search and rescue station is within regular operations for CCG. The crew was not pulled from other operations or duties to carry out this rescue.”

For their part, the Ministry of Transportation, again, pointed to staff shortages as the reason for continued disrupted services, despite the fact the service disruption in question was due to mechanical issues.

“There continues to be an industry-wide shortage of seafarers which has resulted in staffing challenges for all ferry service operations. MTO is actively recruiting for all its marine services positions and has reached out to local mariners,” said Aruna Aundhia, Senior Media Relations Advisor for the MTO.

“The ministry understands the impact of service disruptions to the public, apologizes for the inconvenience and is seeking long-term solutions to minimize further disruptions. We anticipate the new Wolfe Islander IV will alleviate some of these issues when it is put into service.”

It should be noted that the new ferry was scheduled to be in service by this point in 2022, however, as the docks to necessitate it are not yet completed, the new electric ferry remains in storage at this time.

For the purposes of “background only,” Aundhia explained that the mechanical issue with the Wolfe Islander III on the evening of Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, was due to the hydraulic cylinder that is required to raise the ramp at the dock not working. Aundhia further stated that it was Ministry staff who contacted the Coast Guard to request assistance, which is the “prearranged plan for emergency evacuation.”

“Once the emergency was cleared, a marine repair crew replaced the hydraulic cylinder and the ferry returned to service. Updates were provided via Twitter throughout,” said Aundhia.

According to sources that will remain anonymous, the patient requiring medical attention on Monday night is now safe and doing fine.

One thought on “Coast Guard aids in medical emergency while Wolfe Islander III out of service

  • Great work by the Wolfe Island Fire and EMS crew as well as all others involved.
    Heroic and innovative to get the care needed given the circumstances.

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