Safety Guide: Emergencies at the Cottage

By David Reid & David Kells

When the Alberta forest fires swept through Fort McMurray and nearby communities last summer you may have wondered what fire protection services are available for cottages, homes and businesses on Paudash Lake; what happens if there is a forest fire?  Owners of properties that are accessible only by water, or are on roads too small for a fire truck will have a special interest in this subject.  

What about accessing emergency medical help (paramedics) or police services? 

Most know that we access these emergency services by calling 911, the emergency response system for fire, medical emergency, and police emergency calls (e.g. motor vehicle collisions with injuries, break and enter in progress, active fight, family dispute with violence).  For non-emergency, non-life threatening police calls (e.g. discovery of a cottage break-in or theft) call 1-888-310-1122. All calls are answered immediately, 24/7, by a live dispatcher.  This is the Smith Falls Ontario Provincial Police communication centre and they will dispatch a local officer to start the investigation.   

What do I have to know when making this call?  

When 911 is called you can either say the service(s) required or describe the emergency to the operator.  911 operators are trained to ask questions to determine whether Police, Fire or Ambulance services are needed.  Who are you?  Where are you located?  Remember that it might be you on the floor or dock and someone else making the call (perhaps a visitor, grandchild, family member…..).  It’s not “good enough” to say, “It’s Grandpa’s or Uncle Phil’s place”, “Oh, you know, the big white place with all the windows on XX bay”!  

The OPP strongly suggest that you post your location information in large print near the phone, by cottage entrance doors and even on the dock, boathouse or where people often gather so all family members and guests know exactly how to describe your location (owner’s name, 911 “street” address, Highlands East Township, Haliburton County or Faraday Township, Hastings County, Paudash Lake, part of the lake, access road, major intersection, etc.).  Include helpful special instructions such as: use the second driveway, at the top of a steep hill, cottage on the left, etc.  Use large print and make multiple copies.  Panic/crisis situations are not the time to be searching for those reading glasses!  One suggestion is to have these instructions laminated to protect the information (locally, the Bancroft Times does this for $2/sheet).  After all, the cottage is not likely to change locations: you want these information sheets to last! 

Make sure your 911 “street” sign is clearly visible (not lying on the ground, overgrown or missing) and ensure that your road signs are in place.  If your public road sign is missing report this to the municipality to have it replaced: (Highlands East: 705-448-2981), (Faraday: 613-332-3638).  Winter snow and plows are often not kind to signage! 

What if there's a boating or traffic emergency?

If the emergency is on water (boating) or on a highway (traffic accident) the OPP recommend that if you can you proceed to an inhabited residence on the shore or highway.  It’s easier to determine a precise location from these fixed places to speed response times.  Police will respond with the closest unit – jurisdiction is not an issue.

In addition to your location information you will also need to supply a phone number at which you can be reached (sometimes emergency services can’t find your place and they need to call you!)  This happened to at least one PLCA board member.  Landline phones provide the most reliable way for a 911 operator to trace a phone call location.  Cell phones may be tracked if the phone can be pinged through the provider using GPS, but don’t rely on this.  VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones present tracking challenges.  

What about Fires?

Fire protection services in our area are provided by volunteer firefighters on call 24/7. The 911 operator will contact the appropriate fire service, Highlands East or Faraday.  Do not call the fire hall yourself.  For non-emergency, fire information related calls contact the municipal offices: Highlands East: 705-448-2981, Faraday: 613-332-3638.  

What if my cottage isn't accessible?

The more information that can be provided the easier it will be to get help (e.g. is it the cottage itself, a bunkie behind the cottage or in the woods, down a trail beside the cottage, etc.).  So you may ask, what happens if my property is not accessible by a large fire truck because it’s water access only, or the cottage road is too narrow, or the access hill is too steep? It’s important to tell the 911 operator this information.  It is important to know that local firefighters cannot guarantee response to water access or limited access property fires. While not able to carry the same equipment as a fire truck, the Highlands East fire service does have portable pumps, a boat, ATV and even a snowmobile.  Like the OPP, the fire department can also commandeer private pontoon boats, if needed, to reach the site of a fire with their equipment.  Who says your pontoon boat is just another pleasure craft?

What if there's a forest fire?

In the case of the Fort McMurray fire, it soon went beyond the capability of one municipal fire department.  On Paudash Lake, if the fire spreads to the forest or starts in the forest and requires the assistance of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the township fire department will make the request to MNRF.  If you see a forest fire, report it by calling 911.  Our local firefighters are also trained in wildland firefighting techniques.

How can I protect my cottage?

Knowing what services are provided through calling 911, is there anything that you can do yourself to protect your property against fire and its impacts?  

Equipping cottages with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in appropriate locations is as important as in the city, particularly near sleeping quarters. Working detection and warning devices (new batteries! tested frequently! replace every 10 years! ) can be even more important here at the lake. Many cottages are mostly frame and wood, can be older construction and have open fireplaces that are actually used (remember to have the chimney flues cleaned – you don’t want to have a chimney fire).  Having an evacuation plan that all members of the family and overnight guests are aware of, and have practiced, is a simple step that can save lives.  

Fire extinguishers are the first line of defense and should be placed where they are visible and easily accessible. They come in different types and sizes. The most common is an ABC dry chemical extinguisher which can be used on: A-trash, wood, paper; B-liquids, and C- electrical equipment fires. 

Information on what size of extinguisher suits what size of fire can be found on the product label.  What size of extinguisher can easily be handled by all family members may be a practical consideration.  Costs vary by size.  Extinguishers are available at Canadian Tire, local hardware stores and of course, “big box” city stores (Home Depot, Lowes, Costco, etc.).

If you can safely get close enough, aim the fire extinguisher contents in a sweeping motion across the base of the fire. While home fire extinguishers can be recharged it is often not cost effective to do so.  Discharged or expired (yes, they have a finite life even if never discharged!) fire extinguishers should be treated as hazardous waste. 

As attractive as it might be to own your own portable fire pump our local fire department does not recommend putting yourself at risk by trying to fight a fire with your own pump and hoses. 

For suggested measures to help protect your buildings and the areas around them against wildfires see the Ontario FireSmart brochure accessible at:

One obvious measure you can take is to make sure your property insurance is up to date through your broker and that your buildings and all your possessions are correctly valued in the policy!

Medical Emergency and Paramedic Services

So what happens if you need assistance in a medical emergency? The following responses to some of the PLCA's questions, in italics, are from the Haliburton County Paramedic Service and the Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services.

If the cottager or homeowner believes that there is a medical emergency and calls 911 is there a paramedic responder who can provide guidance over the telephone on basic treatment or what to do next, or do they wait for a paramedic responder to arrive, or take the person to the nearest hospital?

Answer: When a person calls 911 for a medical emergency the call is forwarded to the Ambulance dispatch.  Depending on the medical emergency the dispatcher may provide direction to the person calling with instruction such as CPR or advise to give the patient ASA (aspirin) in the case of a suspected heart attack.

Where are the paramedic and ambulance services located?

Answer: If the response requires an ambulance or paramedic the nearest 24 hour/7days a week ambulance station is located in Bancroft with 2 ambulances. There are others in Tory Hill, Minden, Madoc and Haliburton. The Tory Hill station is not staffed overnight, except on holiday weekends.  Response time can vary greatly depending on where an ambulance has to be dispatched from (e.g. if ambulances in one location are tied up then another may need to come from further away). 

  Presumably callers should know, as best they can, any medical related information the paramedic service should be made aware of including age, medications and existing conditions.  Do you have any other suggestions on what should be provided? 

Answer: The more information a caller can provide the better especially if the patient is unable to respond to the paramedic’s questions.  Another thing that is important to provide to paramedics is a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), if one exists.  Many people have these in place now and wish no resuscitative measures to be administered.  These orders areon a form that has been completed by the patient in consultation with their physician.

A few years ago, the PLCA participated in the Hastings-Quinte EMS “Vial of Life” initiative.  Lake residents were encouraged to enter their Personal Information: Name, Sex, Date of Birth, Mailing Address, Health Card Number, Blood Type, Family Physician, Affiliated Hospital, Emergency Contact Persons (Names & Phone Numbers), Current Medical Conditions, Drug Allergies, Current Medications Including Dosage ) on ½ sheet of paper which was folded and placed inside a plastic container (size of large pill container), closed with a tight fitting cap and placed on fridge door shelf.  To be useful this information must be updated as required.  This “Vial of Life” is an excellent way to store and have easy access to all this emergency medical information.     

Cottagers or homeowners on the lake may not know where all the nearest hospitals are or the services that they provide. Can you help provide some guidance on where these are and how to consider using them? 

Answer: Quinte Health Care North Hastings Hospital is a rural, six bed primary care hospital located in Bancroft. It operates a busy 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week Emergency Department (including Emergency Obstetrics). The inpatient beds are available for medical and palliative care services.  The QHC North Hastings Hospital also provides outreach clinics and telemedicine services, diagnostic (Radiology, Ultrasound, Holter/Event Monitor), and Physiotherapy services.  The hospital is part of the North Hastings Health Centre Campus which includes a six-chair Dialysis Unit, a 110 bed Long Term Care Facility, one of two Family Health Teams, Public Health, Community Care Access Centre and Community Care North Hastings.

In Haliburton County there are 2 hospitals.  One is located in Haliburton and the other in Minden.  They both have emergency departments that are staffed 24 hrs/day 7 days/week. Haliburton County Paramedic

Service’s initial response is to never hesitate to call for an ambulance. They are staffed 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week. If you require help they will come!

If it is a medical emergency, especially at night, does the caller need to tell the operator that we are closer to Bancroft than to Minden or Belleville if we want to reduce the response time? How is the origin of the response decided upon? 

Answer: The dispatcher will be able to make that decision on the closest ambulance day or night based on the origin of the call. It’s important to give detail of your location and it could be helpful to remind them that most of the lake is 15-20 minutes driving time south of Bancroft.

If there is a dwelling or other location with water access only, how does the paramedic service get there? 

Answer: We utilize fire department boats for water access.  We can also utilize a private vessel if it is a pontoon boat.  We also have access to OPP support and equipment.

If there is a medical emergency in winter does the paramedic service have snowmobiles if needed or do they contact the OPP or other services?

Answer: Haliburton Paramedic Service does not have snowmobiles but again we utilize fire departments for assistance when a snowmobile is required. Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services has a Difficult And Remote Access Team (DART).  This team is equipped with a Utility Terrain Vehicle that can carry a stretcher.  This vehicle may be used depending on availability and the time required to access the resource. 

Is there anything else cottagers/homeowners should know about paramedic services? 

Answer: Haliburton County paramedics are trained to provide numerous Advanced Life support skills including administration of 12 medications, defibrillation, 12 lead ECG acquisition, Intravenous initiation and delivery ofCPAP (continuous positive airway pressure).

Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services provide Primary and Advanced Care paramedic services. 

“Be Prepared” Check List:

Be able to describe your location; Building address, location and access details (Suggestion: Place the information in a frame or laminate it and permanently hang it on the wall beside the phone, entry/exit doors or other locations where people gather on a property and it can be seen by family/visitors).

All family members and guests know to call 911 in an emergency and what to tell the operator (nature of the emergency and where it’s located) .

Working and tested smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and
non-expired, non-discharged portable fire extinguishers in appropriate locations.

A practiced evacuation and post-evacuation meeting plan appropriate for the building.

Non-emergency OPP number 1-888-310-1122recorded and available to family members for a non life-threatening issue, e.g. a cottage broken into, or a theft.  

Vial of Life” option: Personal Information: Name, Sex, Date of Birth, Mailing Address, Health Card Number, Blood Type, Family Physician, Affiliated Hospital, Emergency Contact Persons (Names & Phone numbers), Current Medical Conditions, Drug Allergies, Current Medications Including Dosage. Stored in easily recognized pill-type container on a fridge door shelf. 

Obtain and review a copy of the Ontario FireSmart brochure.

None of this information is meant to reduce your enjoyment of the cottage and the lake!  Most of the advice from the emergency service personnel requires a one-time organizing of relevant information, passing it on to family members and an annual reminder of how to use it.

Disclaimer: The Paudash Lake Conservation Association (PLCA) sourced material for this article from local emergency service providers but the PLCA accepts no responsibility for liability or damage resulting from information in or omitted from this article.  

Acknowledgements: The PLCA would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their assistance in providing information for this article:


Municipality of Highlands East

Acting Fire Chief Chris Baughman

Office: (705) 448-2981ext228

Cell: (705) 455-2747



Philippe Regamey, Badge # 13541

Ontario Provincial Police, Bancroft Detachment, 

Community Safety / Mobilization Officer

ILPCAS Support / Media Relations

Mental Health Coordinator

64 Monck St. – P.O. Box 640

Bancroft, ON, K0L 1C0

Bus#  613.332.2112(Primary)

Bus Cell#  613.334.0381



Tim Waite, Deputy Chief and Head of Education and Quality Assurance  

Haliburton County Paramedic Service.   

Phone:  705-457-1616  



Doug Socha, Chief, Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services (for the Bancroft ambulances)

111 Millennium Parkway


K8N 4Z5

Office:  613-771-9366 Ext. 224  

Cell :  613-921-5797