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Ontario man disputes $5,400 bill for being rescued while ice fishing

OSHAWA, Ont. — A southern Ontario man says he will fight the $5,400 bill he got after he was rescued when he went through the ice while fishing — both for his wallet and for the principle.

It’s the first such bill issued in Scugog Township and Neil Robbescheuten, a 62-year-old retired teacher, plans to fight it at a council meeting March 4.

Robbescheuten was ice fishing on Lake Scugog earlier this month when a dense fog rolled in and he became disoriented trying to find his way back to the shore.

The Oshawa man said he went through the ice in a marshy area near some bullrushes, became stuck in the mud and lost his lantern underwater.

“I honestly thought I was going to perish because I just couldn’t see anything and I was stuck so badly,” he said in an interview.

“If I hadn’t had the bullrushes I think it would have been the end of it.”

He was able to pull himself out onto a tree stump using the bullrushes while he called 911. Three firetrucks responded to rescue him and the firefighters pulled him about 150 metres to shore using a raft, he said.

The fire captain told him to expect a bill, but when the invoice arrived and he opened it, Robbescheuten was in “utter shock,” he said.

“They’ve given me 30 days to pay, but that’s not going to happen because $5,000 is not a small amount of money,” he said.

Scugog Fire Chief Richard Miller said it was calculated at $500 per firetruck per hour plus the cost of the firefighters.

The weather was warm and rainy the day Robbescheuten went through the ice and local conservation authorities had issued warnings urging people to stay away from bodies of water, Miller said.

“The choice was clearly the fisherman’s to go out there,” he said. “My personal opinion from living here all my life is that I would not have gone on the lake.”

Robbescheuten has been ice fishing there for 30 years and said he checked the ice that day and it was in line with Ministry of Natural Resources standards.

He said he’s now concerned that his bill will cause other people to think twice before calling emergency services and will put people in danger.

Miller said he didn’t think that would be the case.

“Anybody that calls 911 for a heart attack or a car accident, they’re not going to second-guess themselves in calling it,” he said.

Miller said he couldn’t comment on whether that would be the case in another ice fishing situation.

“If they can get off the lake themselves then they don’t have to call 911,” he said. “If they’re in such a situation that they’re under duress and distress, I guess they’re going to have to call.”

Miller said while this is the first such invoice in the township, it has had the ability to issue them for years.

 
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