Multiple Rescues Add Up In Costs

More than 20 first responders spent the early hours of Sunday searching the St. Marys River for people who had been swept away in a tent. The cost from the three river rescues this spring are adding up to thousands of dollars for fire departments.
Staff Writer

While the immediate peril and effort to rescue people stranded in fast flowing water cannot be ignored, there is one aspect that is often forgotten about — the cost. With the St. Marys Fire Department conducting three river rescues already this year, that forgotten aspect is taking a big bite out of the city’s funds.

“The three river rescues that we’ve had total almost $8,000 worth of equipment use,” said Fire Chief Doug Ayers. “And that’s just for my guys at this department.”

The first rescue involved two men who were kayaking on the cold and flooded St. Marys River on April 20. With approximately an hour and a half of time dedicated by city firefighters as well as 14 firefighters from St. Marys Township Fire Department, the rescue totaled $2,836 between the $1,503 for St. Marys Township and $1,333 for St. Marys FD.

The second rescue came a few days later just after midnight on April 27. This time, crews were on the scene for two hours to rescue three men who had been canoeing on the again flooded river. Multiple agencies were called to assist in the rescue with a total of $4,504 between St. Marys City and St. Marys Township fire departments; $2,500 and $2,004 respectively.

Sunday morning’s rescue of two homeless people swept away by floodwaters took three hours and cost $3,993 for the city and $3,633 for the township. An additional $448 was incurred by the Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency.

The cost will not cause a spike in taxes for residents but it does have to come from somewhere so the city will absorb the cost of the rescue for its employees’ time. 

Although recent rescues have received a lot of attention, the SMFD has been conducting water rescues unnoticed for years because Ayers said the majority of the rescues have been smaller, less dangerous events. He noted that the last major rescue the department did was in 2011 when rapid snowmelt combined with heavy spring rains to flood large portions of the city.

Above the financial burden, there is another cost to consider that has city officials happy with the outcomes of the three rescues — entering a flooded, fast-moving and debris-laden waterway is dangerous for anyone, including firefighters — but that won’t stop the men and women across the county who answer calls for help.

“We understand that as the fire service, this is our job,” Ayers said. “We won’t shrink back at going out on the river and rescuing people just like we don’t shrink back from going into burning buildings and rescuing people — that is our job — but if you can prevent yourself from getting into a situation where you need rescued, that would be ideal.”