A Victoria whale-watching business is working with the Victoria Fire Department to run some cross-training drills that would allow them to more effectively respond to emergency situations out at sea.
“When we’re out there, if a vessel comes up on channel 16 and calls for a mayday, the nearest vessel needs to go and assist,” explained Russ Nicks, a captain with Eagle Wing Tours.
Once the call for help is out, the whale-watching boat becomes a vessel of opportunity.
“If they’re a vessel of opportunity, they’re closer, they can get to the person, start with the first aid,” said assistant chief Rich Fryer with the Victoria Fire Department. “We would meet them, do a transfer — whether that’s our guys onto their boat or we bring the patient on our boat and we bring them in to get them to ambulance care.”
With this training, the whale-watching crew is better equipped to respond to the calls and the fire department will become familiar with their vessels.
“Just to know whereabouts we would have to enter their boats, seeing where their gates are, where we would pull up beside them, how we’d tie off, if we had to do it at speed — all these things,” said Fryer. “We do the same stuff with coast guard as well.”
The fire department has 48 fire boat operators that are spread out over four different shifts. Fryer said they’ll be working on getting most, if not all, of them familiarized with the whale-watching vessels over the next few weeks.
“A vessel is very much like a person, it has a personality,” said Brett Soberg, co-owner of Eagle Wing Tours. “You have to be very mindful of the dos and don’ts with each particular craft.”
The whale-watching crews practiced transfers — moving a person from one vessel to the other — and bringing out the fire hose.
It’s a way to keep the staff working and learning new skills during a time when business is down 80 per cent, said Nathan Bird, general manager of Eagle Wing Tours,
“We’re not really doing a lot of business right now,” said Bird. “We’ve got lots of staff that are hanging around that need to be trained and are looking for things to do.”
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Before the pandemic, the whale-watching boats would make five to nine trips a day in the ramping-up season of May and June. Now, they make two to four trips on weekends.
“To partner with an emergency service, that just all seemed to make sense to us,” Bird explained.
This way staff can continue working and the business can stay afloat, he said, while making the harbour a safer place at the same time.