Photo Courtesy of MNBP Fire and Rescue Photo: Rescue at Mermaids Cove (Burnt Point): a 17-year-old girl from the GTA was spending a day by the water at Mermaids Cove when her foot and lower calf became trapped in an underwater crevice. She is surrounded by, from left, Capt Laura McFarlane, Capt Jeff Munn, District Chief Krista Tiernan, Chief Jack Burt and Bill Gowland.
By John Francis,
Bruce Peninsula Press

On August 9, Northern Bruce Peninsula’s Fire and Rescue service was called upon to rescue a girl whose leg and foot were trapped in a rock crevice, a foot or so underwater.

The girl, a 17-year-old from the Greater Toronto Area, was visiting Mermaids Cove/Burnt Point in Tobermory with friends, having a day by the water. As Fire Chief Jack Burt points out, that crack in the rock has been waiting there for thousands of years and her foot and leg were “just the right size” to fit and get trapped. “It could have happened to anyone.”

The girl and her friends spent a couple of hours trying to get her loose before calling 911. Fire and Rescue personnel arrived to find a remarkably complicated situation.

The water was warm so hypothermia was not an immediate problem, but the rescue might take hours so they would need to give her something to sit on to keep most of her body out of the water. Also, every time a tourboat went by, the wake would swamp the victim and the rescuers.

The response was very much a team effort. Bruce County Paramedics were first on the scene and stayed to monitor her vital signs; Parks Canada and the Coast Guard sent vessels to cordon off the area when Chief Burt put out a radio call asking all tourboat companies to operate at zero-wake speeds. Parks Canada personnel helped to move generators and other equipment from the shoreline access point to the rescue location by boat. Fire Department personnel had to figure out a way to get her foot free.

They tried lubricants but without success. The alternatives were very complicated. They would have to remove part of the slab of rock without cracking it loose, because cracking it loose might crush her foot and leg. They would have to chip and drill away from her, which made for a long rescue. The challenge was further complicated by the fact that the department has no underwater rockbreaking or drilling equipment.

Firefighter Matt Gowland works in the construction industry; he set out to find which contractors had high-powered hammer drills with long bits. Grey Bruce OPP Officers located Danny Hollis and Steve Tiernan who had equipment that would do the job and rushed it to scene. Tobermory Fire Captain Jeff Munn, who has been working with rock his whole life, began drilling the rock while Firefighters chipped away with hammers and chisels.

When they finally succeeded in getting her free, at around 6:30PM, she had been trapped in the water for about six hours. She was transported by Parks Canada boat to the Coast Guard docks where she was treated by paramedics and released.

Chief Burt said, “This was a true team effort by all of your public safety partners ensuring that this young woman was successfully freed without serious injury. This rescue was an extremely complicated ordeal that required multiple agencies, resources, and the public to work together for the successful outcome. It was truly inspiring to be a part of the coordinated efforts required for this rescue.”

Had Chief Burt ever encountered a rescue like this before? Well, yes: 22 years ago when he was a volunteer firefighter at Sauble Beach, someone got their foot jammed in a crevice on the Sauble River.