Meet the guardian angels of Niagara Falls’ swimming and boating fraternities

Local St. John Ambulance chapter expands its life-saving Water Patrol program

In 1970, a deadly stretch of the Welland River known locally as Chippawa Creek claimed five lives.

One year later, a group of guardian angels arrived—without the water wings, so to speak.

“If they hadn’t come by, I would have gone under for sure. I’m very glad for what they did,” said 19-year-old Howard Feldman after becoming the first person saved by the Water Patrol Program, launched in 1971 by the Niagara Falls branch of St. John Ambulance (SJA).

For nearly 50 years, the SJA’s Water Patrol team has watched over swimmers and boaters, advised boaters on dangerous areas and watercraft rules, and provided on-site rescues—partnering with the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario, to provide critical river monitoring and lifeguard duties.

In fact, since 1971, the SJA’s Water Patrol crew in Niagara Falls has:

  • Rescued 126 swimmers from certain death;
  • Assisted 322 swimmers in difficulty out of dangerous water;
  • Acted upon 4,218 calls for first aid; and
  • Responded to 17 bush, grass and boat fires.

SJA aims to improve Canadians’ health, safety, and quality of life by providing life-saving training and community services—and the Water Patrol Program is a big part of this commitment, says Beth Paul, manager of SJA’s Niagara Falls branch.

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“Our Water Patrol team is on the water all summer—from the last day of school until Labor Day,” she says.

While on patrol, teams carry a Tactical Employment and Maritime Support (TEAMS) bag, an oxygen therapy bag, a defibrillator, a fire department radio, and other safety equipment necessary for on-site rescues and first aid. All patrollers are qualified lifeguards who receive full advanced medical first response training, and get assessed annually to maintain their status.

In addition to vigilant patrolling, the program also includes public awareness efforts.

The Stay Clear, Stay Safe initiative features school presentations by SJA volunteers on basic first aid, water safety skills, and the importance of life jackets. Over 200,000 local students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 have received vital training from the program.

Enbridge is committed to improving quality of life in the communities where we work and operate. In 2017, we invested more than $6.5 million on community-strengthening initiatives across Ontario—and our recent $3,000 donation to the SJA’s Niagara Falls branch will allow the Water Patrol program to teach 2,000 more students about water safety.

Waterways in the Niagara Region are particularly dangerous and unpredictable, notes Paul, which is why the SJA prioritized this expansion of its Water Patrol program.

Children should “always treat water as unsafe, and know the risks and hazards that go hand-in-hand with entering an unknown body of water,” she says.