‘This is a farm community,’ Tehkummah reeve responds as Larry Killens objects to fire pumpers helping in drought

TEHKUMMAH—South Baymouth resident and Manitoulin Rainbow District School Board trustee Larry Killens is raising the alarm over the use of a Tehkummah Fire Department pumper to deliver water to local farmers hard hit by this summer’s drought, but the reeve and council are scratching their heads over what the fuss is all about.

“This is a farming community,” said Reeve Eric Russell, “we try and help people. Council doesn’t have a problem with it, I don’t either. They need water.”

The summer drought that has seen near record low precipitation across most of Manitoulin has hit farmers hard, noted Reeve Russell, who also farms. “I have been watering my cattle for a month now.”

Mr. Killens provided The Expositor with a copy of an email that he sent to the municipality in which he raised the issue. “I am curious and request to be enlightened as to some detail involving our township pumper truck,” he wrote, outlining his observation of the truck driving down the road with hoses dragging. “I flashed my lights in an attempt to stop the tanker truck.”

The truck pulled into a farmer’s field where the driver thanked Mr. Killens for noting the errant couplings and indicated that he had been bringing water to the cattle.

“Two days later I spoke to Mr. Kay (the farmer in whose field the fire truck had stopped) and he explained that the township truck is being used (to deliver water to farms) as it is considered to be an emergency and the truck is used by farmers,” wrote Mr. Killens. “I wish to know if this is township policy, is a fee charged for use of the equipment in the event of damage and is there a back up plan for a tanker should it be needed while watering cattle?”

Questioned as to whether he was seriously challenging the use of the tanker to bring water to farmers, Mr. Killens responded, “As a follow up, just so you are aware, and I am not on a witch hunt, I called my insurance underwriter and they shared with me that should it be found that I called for fire services of the township, at this scorching time and the truck was tied up watering cattle, my insurance coverage would be void. This is aside from any damages that may or may not happen to the township vehicle and its equipment.”

One of the recipients of the email, farmer Jim Anstice of Tehkummah, responded to Mr. Killens as follows: “Larry, southeast Manitoulin is in an unprecedented state drought with less than 35 millimeters of rain since the first of June. Farmers have been scrambling to find enough feed and pasture this summer and now an even more stressful situation as watering sources are drying up. These cattle must have water or they will die. Most farmers are already feeding the upcoming winter hay three months before they would normally start feeding. Most farmers don’t have the equipment at the ready to haul water and finding water tanks on short notice is difficult.

“I am not privy to the method of payment, but I would assume a nominal fee would be offered by those needing the service. In my view a likely appreciated source of income for the volunteer fire department and a good way for the fire members to practice using the equipment. It is the fire department members who drive the truck and use the equipment to provide this service bringing water to the cattle when requested by the farmer.

“As far as the advice from your insurance company—if the fire truck is active in the township, should a fire emergency occur, the fire members in radio contact would be able to respond more quickly than if they had to travel from their home to the fire hall and activate the fire equipment. Would the insurance company’s policy include the participation of the fire equipment in the July 1st parade? Insurance companies don’t always know the circumstances.

“I hope this will shed some light on what in my view is a desperate situation for our agricultural community and a highly justifiable and much appreciated action on the part of our fire department.”

Mr. Anstice closed his reply by noting that he is not currently a member of the Tehkummah council, or a member of the fire department. “I have not been using the fire service to haul water. Pray for rain.”

Mr. Russell added that in any event, the township has three pumper trucks available to it in the event of a fire emergency.