December 23, 2022, from the desk of Richard Withington,
I purposely have delayed writing the season-end report until the season is officially over. As I write, the National Weather Service in Buffalo is issuing a blizzard and Bomb Cyclone warning for the Great Lakes, and for Jefferson County in particular. As I check the Marine Traffic site, I see something very unusual. All of the Great Lakes are nearly cleared of commercial shipping. Where yesterday there were several ships trying to squeeze in one more trip before lay-up, now almost all are secured in safe harbors or at anchor in protected bays. Clearly, the message is out and the mariners are taking the weather warnings to heart. On days like this, the "gales of November" and the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald are called to everyone's consciousness. Lessons hard-learned are not soon forgotten.
Clayton’s fireboat is now out of service for the winter, and fortunately, the summer was relatively quiet. The major event was the cottage fire on Murray Island at the beginning of the season. This event was well-described by Glenn Sandiford in the previous May 2022 TI Life article.
The loss of the cottage was tragic, but a major disaster was averted by the vigorous efforts of all of the River departments, with special appreciation going to the Canadian departments that responded. Their experience in wild-fire tactics and additional man-power were pivotal in stopping what could have involved multiple buildings and wilderness areas. The effort that brought that fire under control was a great example of the cooperation of the River Community. At a time when cottages were just being opened, and not too many folks were around, there was a huge response by those who were available.
The Murray islanders were prompt in bringing several portable pumps to the seawall. They were assisted by friends and neighbors from Grenell, Wellesley, Bluff, Round, and Grindstone islands, and probably some smaller islands that I don't recall. The River fire boats were on the scene quickly and added manpower and pumps. I even encountered an officer from the Toronto Fire Department who pitched in. A brisk easterly wind fanned the conflagration and blew fire brands into the woods behind the cottages. Clearly, it was a close call for all the properties that were down-wind of the fire.
As is usually the case, the majority of the calls for the Last Chance were for medical emergencies. There was a boat collision that resulted in injuries to an elderly fisherman. Law enforcement and fire/rescue assisted TIERS (Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service) in providing aid and transportation for the injured. Another emergency was the report of an unconscious swimmer near Picton Island. Again, TIERS, Clayton Fire/Rescue, and law enforcement responded quickly and resolved the problem with a quick trip to the River Hospital.
One of the more dramatic calls was for a boat fire west of Grindstone Island. The sole occupant sustained minor burns before jumping overboard. He was rescued by a near-by good Samaritan and transported by Canadian law enforcement.
We had a few calls for non-life-threatening emergencies, including a chest injury from falling down some stairs, and a call for law enforcement to cover a domestic disturbance on an island down-river at night. Some other calls turned out to be false alarms.
All in all, this turned out to be one of the safest summers in recent years. Our thanks go out to all who were careful and safe boaters.
Finally, a quick "Thank you" to those who decorated early this year. Many of the mariners who passed through the Seaway this fall will not be home for the Christmas holidays. The presence of your lights is a non-denominational reminder of HOPE for the coming year, and heaven knows, we need it.
Best wishes to all, Dick.
By Richard L. Withington, MD, December 2022
Dr. Richard (Dick) L. Withington is a retired Orthopedic Surgeon and is best known on the River for his rescue work, with his boat “Stormy.” Each winter Dr. W. writes articles that provide his special view of the Thousand Islands – and we thank him for this.
His first article for TI Life, A Winter Islander, was published in January 2009. It is one of the most read TI Life articles in the pst 18 years. To see all of his island experiences, search TI Life under Richard L. Withington. Also be sure to see The Doctor is in, February 2012, written by Kim Lunman, writer and former publisher of Island Life, which was a print magazine.
Header photograph courtesy of Glenn Sandiford, Grenell Isle.
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