New boat extends reach of fire department

Ken Kellar

A generous donation has the potential to help people in distress on Rainy Lake for years to come.
Recently, the Watten Volunteer Fire Department was gifted a used emergency boat for use in situations that may arise on and near the waters of Rainy Lake.

Watten fire chief Chad Buist noted that he has some history with the boat, as it was donated by an organization he used to work for, the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority in northeastern Ontario.

“It’s a funny thing, I worked up there as the Operation Manager and so that boat was the boat we used to transport patients between Moosonee and Moose Factory to get them back and forth between the island and the mainland,” Buist explained.

“I knew that they had since purchased two boats in addition to that, and that boat that we now have at the Fire Department was sitting there as a backup, so it wasn’t getting a lot of use and it was designed for emergency purposes.”

Buist explained that there have been incidents in the past where the Watten Volunteer Fire Department has been unable to respond to calls for service because of the location of the incident and the lack of easy means to get there, which drove home the need for an emergency boat such as this one.

“We had had numerous incidents – that island fire at Nowhere Island, the bear attack that happened on Rainy Lake – there’s been a bunch of things,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of calls for service that we couldn’t action with the fire department, so I just kind of sent an email up to the new operation manager, the guy that took my job, and I said, ‘Look, if you guys were ever interested in selling that boat, it would be ideal for our needs.’ He brought it up to the CO and the CO said ‘well, we’d be more than happy to donate it.’”

After all was said and done, the Watten Volunteer Fire Department purchased the boat for just $1, which Buist said is “amazing” of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority.

“It’s just such a generous donation,” he said.

“I don’t know what the boat would be worth but it’s probably close to $50,000 and for them to just sign it over for a dollar, with the understanding that it would continue to help people in need, that’s pretty special.”

The new boat is a 26 foot aluminum emergency powerhouse with dual engines and an independent jet drive, which the department said will allow it to operate in shallow waters. It also has a heated enclosure, stretcher mount , and a dedicated pump which will allow firefighters to take on a cabin or island fire from the lake.

The boat itself had a bit of a journey to get here – Moosonee is approximately 20 kilometres south James Bay on Moose River, and there are no roads to drive a boat and trailer from there to here. Buist said the boat’s trailer got some work done on it while still in Moosonee and then both boat and trailer made the long journey by train to Cochrane. Now that it’s in our part of the country, more work needs to be done before it can finally head out on the lake.

“Now it’s gone to Selective Services to have the decaling done and then from there next week it’s going to go to Badiuk’s for a full service, which is going to be everything from draining fuel to new spark plugs, new filters,” Buist explained.

“Then there’s going to be some safety equipment that has to go on it, including some better life-jackets, communications equipment, a proper radio, fire extinguishers – it’s a lot of little things but they certainly add up quickly. And then we’ll start doing training, later this summer you’ll see us out, hopefully around August we’ll be doing training with it to get people ready, and then the idea with it is come next summer it will be ready to respond to emergencies on the water.”

The boat is a great acquisition for the Watten Volunteer Fire Department that will allow them to respond to calls they otherwise could not, and while the department did acquire it almost for free, it does add a sizeable chunk onto their annual operating costs going forward. With Buist calculating their current annual costs at about $11,000 – $12,000 each year, and the boat expected to add “a few thousand dollars,” the department has had to reckon with how to fundraise in a time when getting friends and supporters together in one area is still a no-go.

“We would normally do a flea market and a fish fry, and both of those are off the table,” he said.

“The flea market obviously because of the COVID restrictions, and then the fish fry more specifically to Sunny Cove being in its current state. We are planning on putting together a take-out fish fry of some sort, but we’ll give the details when that comes closer. It won’t be until probably late August that we’ll do something to try and fundraise, but we’re certainly feeling the pain this year.”

Adding to the pain is the fact that the initial retrofit and service costs are also expected to run the department another $10,000.

Even so, Buist and the department said that the value it adds to what they are able to do can’t be overstated, and the department is also looking at sharing training opportunities with the Couchiching Fire Department once the boat is water-ready.

The Watten Volunteer Fire Department is also currently accepting donations from members of the public who wish to support them and help cover the costs of getting the new boat up and running. Donations may be e-transferred to or sent by mail to Watten Fire Dept. RR#2 Site 218-130, Fort Frances ON P9A 3M3.