(Buffalo Lake file photo)

Group of Stettler-area residents taking cold-water plunge to raise funds for lake rescue craft

Jumping in the lake in the middle of summer is a great way to cool off; jumping in the lake during the middle of February is just cold.

Five representatives from around the region will be doing just that on Feb. 21 in support of the Stettler Volunteer Firefighters Association.

County of Stettler Coun. Justin Stevens, Town of Stettler Coun. Kurt Baker, Big Valley Coun. Amber Hogenberg, Marci Spady from Ol’ MacDonald’s campground and Dustin Stauffer will all be taking the plunge.

The reason for this polar-style plunge is to raise funds for two Sea-Doo style water-craft equipped to perform lake rescues on Buffalo Lake.

Coun. Stevens is the driving force behind the project, dubbed “Freezin’ for a Reason,” which he says comes from his close ties to the lake.

“I live very close to the lake,” said Stevens.

“We have been avid users for years. I’ve personally been involved in two separate rescues.”

The rescue that still sits with Stevens is one where he was working at Ol’ MacDonald’s as a teenager.

A family of five had been out in a fishing boat when a storm blew in. The boat sank, and the father was injured in the process. He remained in the water with the children while the mother made the way to shore for help.

“My brother and I and the driver of the (pontoon) boat went out and searched for an hour looking for the dad and three kids,” said Stevens.

“They were in the water for two-and-a-half to three-hours.”

Everyone survived, though two of the children were treated for hypothermia.

Stevens admitted that at the time the incident didn’t really affect him, but now as an adult he can’t help but put himself in the father’s place, worrying about the children and hoping they got rescued.

“That’s why I chose this as my first initiative since I got on council,” said Stevens.

According to Stevens, members of the public, and council, have suggested that since the RCMP have a boat they should be responsible for water rescue on the lake. It is not something Stevens sees as being a viable option.

“Through no fault of their own, they have somewhat limited knowledge of the lake,” said Stevens, indicating that the reason for this is the frequency with which members are rotated through the detachment.

Up to this point many rescues have been completed by private citizens who have answered the call for help; however, in the day and age of rising insurance costs, and increasing litigation, Stevens isn’t sure if that is the asnwer either.

“They have no training, no proper equipment,” said Stevens.

“Is that a liability issue? Does that put more people at risk? The rescuers start asking themsevles ‘was it even wise for me to go out?’”

Town of Stettler Coun. Kurt Baker isn’t necessarily excited to take the plunge himself, but says he is happy to if his “participation can raise some money and help make our firefighters’ jobs a little easier and Bufflalo Lake a little safer.”

“A polar dip isn’t for the faint of heart, but it pales in comparison to the bravery shown every time our firefghters respond to a call,” said Baker, in a written statement.

The plungers, with the support of the Stettler Regional Fire Department, will be taking to the water on Feb. 21 at 2 p.m at Rochon Sands Bay.

Tax receipts are availabe for donations the Stettler Firefighters Association.

The plan would be to have several fire department members trained on the rescue craft and able to respond during the lake’s busy season to cut down on the need for non-trained people to perform search-and-rescue activities.

A pair of the water craft would be purchased so that they could be operated in tandem on a buddy system.

The Stettler Board of Trade is on board with supporting the initiative, with possible plans in the future of running an ice-fishing derby along with the polar-plunge.

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