Ministry of the
Solicitor General

OFM - 04-83-01

Selecting A Water/Ice Rescue Capability

Public Fire Safety Guidelines

Subject Coding

PFSG 04-83-01


Emergency Response


August 1998


Selecting A Water/Ice Rescue Capability


Under Review


To provide municipalities with options to guide and assist in developing the level of water and ice rescue responses provided to the public.


The delivery of water and ice rescue services is not a fire department responsibility unless the service is clearly defined and authorized by council in the fire department establishing and regulating bylaw.
When a fire department is not responsible for these services, the municipal emergency plan should identify locally available resources for water and ice rescue.

Service Delivery Considerations:

  • The provision of water and ice rescue services may be a component of local public fire protection.
  • Due to a variety of influences, not all communities are capable of or should consider delivering the same level of service.
  • Water and ice rescue capabilities will vary from none to water and ice entry rescue techniques with effective rescue apparatus and adequate fire ground staffing.
  • It is the responsibility of every community to determine the level of water and ice rescue capability that is to be provided.
  • Municipal council shall then ensure that the fire department is provided with appropriate equipment, personnel and training to safely and effectively deliver the service.
  • The level of water and ice rescue services being provided to the community must be thoroughly evaluated to determine if they are being delivered in a safe manner and are appropriate for the needs of the community

Service Delivery Options:

  • Variety of options dependent on nature of the community
  • Level chosen must be delivered safely and effectively
  • Community risks and financial impact must be considered
  • Risk to recreational users must be considered in tourism areas
  • More effect may be gained through a combination of options
  • Delivery option selected must be in compliance with Guidance Note 6-3 (August 2002)

Consideration: No Water and Ice Rescue Capability:


  • Small communities with few calls for service
  • Minimal water and ice rescue risk (No history of drownings or water/ice rescues)
  • Unable to assemble required rescue team in a timely manner


  • If water and ice rescue risk is not addressed there is the potential for preventable and needless loss of life, including public safety personnel
  • Potential for civil or criminal liability upon municipality


  • Public water safety and drowning prevention programs

Consideration: Land Based Water and Ice Rescue Capability:

This level should be considered for all fire departments required to draft water from open static water sources


  • Fire departments often find themselves with an inadequate number of personnel to perform water and ice rescues of a high degree of danger and risk to the rescuers
  • Significant impact on accident victims close to shore
  • Improvement in the safety of fire service personnel (self-rescue)
  • Inexpensive training program and equipment acquisition


  • Minimal risk to firefighters
  • Increased level of community protection
  • Improved public perception while meeting community needs


  • Increased rescue capability along with associated costs and expectations
  • Loss of life occurring off shore (public perception and liability)

Consideration: Vessel Based Water and Ice Rescue Capability:


  • Deliver a higher level of service
  • Ability to access a greater number of potential customers
  • Meet the needs of communities economically dependent upon recreational users of public waterways


  • Greater potential to rescue live persons; increased level of public safety
  • Dependent upon significant and costly additional resources
  • Moderate level of risk to firefighters
  • Requires a higher level of fire ground staffing
  • Lack of public education may result in lack of support


  • Highly dependent upon rapid notification
  • Provide water and ice entry rescue services
  • Consider agreement with an area fire department or other services capable of delivering a higher level of water and ice rescue services

Consideration: Water and Ice Entry Rescue Capability:


  • Highest level of service to the community
  • Capability to meet most ice rescue emergencies


  • Dependent upon strict and time consuming training
  • Exceptionally costly service to implement and maintain vs. low call volume
  • Highest degree of risk for the rescuer


  • Most alternatives result in a reduced level of service

Consideration: Police, Commercial Contractor or Volunteer Search & Rescue (SAR) Group:

Agreement with the local policing authority, an area fire department, a commercial contractor or a volunteer marine search and rescue agency may be used in place of fire department delivered services


  • May be the most cost effective and efficient means available to deliver service
  • Local public safety agencies unable to deliver level of service expected


  • Quality of service issues such as response time, training and level of service
  • Public perception and acceptance of a non-traditional rescue agency
  • Minimal commitment of municipality
  • May pose risk management concerns related to Occupational Health and Safety Issues
  • Potential for civil or criminal liability may rest with municipality

Codes, Standards, and Best Practices:

Codes, Standards and Best Practices resources available to assist in establishing local policy on this assessment are listed below. All are available at . Please feel free to copy and distribute this document. We ask that the document not be altered in any way, that the Office of the Fire Marshal be credited and that the documents be used for non-commercial purposes only.

See also PFSG

02-02-12 & 03 Fire Risk Assessment (Special Hazards)
02-03-01 Economic Circumstances
02-04-01 & 23 Capabilities of Existing Fire Protection Services