Constable Jeffrey Lucifora has rescued many adventurers that run into difficulty in Lake Ontario.
None, however, came as close to losing their lives with the seven-year Marine veteran on duty as the young man who fell out of a canoe on October 16.
Just after 2:20 p.m. a 9-1-1 call was made alerting police to the man who tried swimming to shore after falling from the boat.
“We were at the front desk when I answered the phone, the Communication Operator was on the line patching me through to a female complainant who told me someone was in the water off Cherry Beach south of the main lifeguard stand… I asked if he was wearing a life jacket and she confirmed he wasn’t” said Constable Jason Keegan.
Lucifora, Keegan headed for a boat with Paramedic Andrew Pirrie, opting for a zodiac powered by twin 300 horsepower engines – the fastest in the fleet and were on plane as soon as they hit the mouth of Toronto Harbour from their docks. It took about four minutes in a straight line to get eyes on the capsized canoe.
“As we travelled through the East Gap, we could see a beige canoe capsized but there was no one close to it,” recalled Lucifora, who was at the helm. “My partner, however, spotted what appeared to be head popping up north of the canoe and as we got close.”
The canoe was about 450 metres from shore, the man was halfway to shore at Cherry Beach.
“We saw him thrashing in the water,” Keegan said.
We were concerned that the next time his eyes went under the water he’s was not coming back up
They moved quickly toward him, Lucifora blasting the horn once they were within 100 feet to let the man know that help was arriving and to keep fighting to stay atop the water line.
“We could see him bobbing exposing his face eyes to forehead with the waves as we approached,” he said, noting Keegan removed the sidewall of the zodiac so the man could be pulled in easily. “We were concerned that the next time his eyes went under the water he’s was not coming back up.”
They threw a ring to the man as they closed the gap but he was unable to retrieve it.
“He was frantically trying to stay above water… Jason then extended a boat hook which he grabbed and we were able to pull him on top of the boat.”
He had ingested a lot of water and was throwing up and shaking uncontrollably as Pirrie worked on him. The paramedic cut the man’s sweater off and covered him up in a blanket, checked his vitals and tried to keep the man alert and responsive as they headed to the Cherry St. terminal to meet an ambulance already at the shoreline. The victim was able to communicate with the paramedic and was quick to thank his rescuers in spite of his distress.
There is a paramedic attached to the Marine Unit 24-7.
“Having a medic there is essential for us and ensures we get immediate medical attention to that victim,” Lucifora said, noting that seconds count in these water rescues.
He said in this case, the man would have died if they had arrived on the scene even 10 seconds later.
“The victim tried to swim back to the beach, but was up against an offshore wind,” he said. “The water temperature was 13 degrees and he had on jeans, a heavy sweater and boots. This guy didn’t have a life jacket or any safety equipment.”
The man had been returning to shore when he capsized. He had been the star of a music video that friends on the shore had been filming with a drone.
Lucifora is advising anyone venturing into the lake to take safety precautions and prepare for the worst case scenario.
“It doesn’t matter how far off shore you are going, take into consideration the weather conditions and make sure you take a life jacket and the required safety equipment with you. Safety should supersede everything else,” he said. “We got there just in the nick of time to rescue someone who was on the verge of drowning.”
Lucifora said it is a busy time of year for the Marine Unit.
“There is a potential for serious calls to increase this time of year because of colder, rougher and windier conditions and there are less boats on the water to help people out when they are in distress,” he said.
Even experienced boaters can get into trouble on the water. The officers had responded to a call on Sunday when a man in a powerboat couldn’t restart his engine after trying to bring it in to harbour for storage in rough water. Thankfully the man was able to jump off the boat at shore with the help of officers but they couldn’t save the boat from the rocky shoreline.