A meeting to gather input from the public about the costs incurred during rescues of stranded ice fishermen has been scheduled for March 12 at 6 p.m. at the Ottawa County Emergency Management Center in Port Clinton.
Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said he’s planned the meeting to hear from representatives of fishing organizations and individual ice fishermen on the cost issue.
Officials from Lucas and Ottawa counties as well as representatives from fire and Emergency Medical Service agencies have also been invited, the sheriff said.
Updated information on the Ottawa County ice rescue policy will also be discussed during the meeting, he said.
More than 130 ice fishermen were rescued from Lake Erie on Feb. 7 after days of warm weather and winds out of the southwest left them stranded due to deteriorating ice conditions.
In an effort that made national news, emergency personnel from Lucas and Ottawa counties as well as the Coast Guard responded, sparking a debate in the following days on whether those who were rescued should be required to reimburse the agencies for their costs. A New Albany, O. man was pronounced dead after being transported by helicopter to Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky. He had collapsed after being pulled from water about three feet deep where his snowmobile had broken through the ice.
Sheriff Bratton said there is an informal agreement between his office and Lucas County Sheriff James Telb that the information discussed at the meeting will be reviewed by their offices with the intent to develop a protocol for future rescues.
Three years ago, his office implemented a three-step response policy after conducting a lengthy meeting of emergency response personnel and fishermen.
Under the policy, fishermen rescued the first time are identified – name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number - and not allowed to return to the ice without authorization. The sheriff or his designee declares when an ice emergency exists.
If someone is again rescued in the same season, he or she will be required to complete an ice safety awareness class. If there is a third rescue in a season the person will be notified of a potential civil action in Ottawa County Municipal Court.
“A third contact and rescue from the ice is defined as recklessness, irresponsibility, and negligence in personal accountability,” the policy says. “Expenses will be estimated at the conclusion of each rescue. However, the costs for the third rescue will be reviewed by the Ottawa County Prosecutor, civil action prepared and filed for small claims court.”
The plan covers only the sheriff’s department and wasn’t triggered by the latest rescue operation because the fishermen were primarily in the Lucas County area of the lake.
Sheriff Bratton said at the time he will look at his department’s policy as a “working draft” while he meets with other jurisdictions and anglers trying to come up with a policy all the parties find suitable.
The policy can be viewed at ottawacountysheriff.org.
The Emergency Management Center is located at 315 Madison Street in Port Clinton and can accommodate about 60 people.