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Making our Rural Routes Safer

Farm 911: The Emily Project

author: Kelly S. Thompson  

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When tragedy strikes a family, it’s often the community’s response that brings about change.

Last winter, Al Carruthers was part of an emergency response team that careened down a township side road, hoping against hope that he and his team could find the location of a snowmobile accident that had been reported. They didn’t have a civic address, just a vague description of the road and a nearby farm – nothing that would accurately pinpoint where the accident had happened. Al remembers the frustration and the anxiety he felt that day and on many others when the same scenario had unfolded.

A volunteer fireman and full-time farmer in Alnwick/Haldimand Township, Carruthers is a voice of experience. As a farmer, he understands the dangers of his profession. As an emergency responder, he recognizes that he and his co-workers rely heavily on their personal knowledge of the local area – what combines or tractors are on what fields or where the recreational trails are in the area. But Carruthers also notes that circumstances can change: farms sell and large sections of farmland are often rented out. Farm workers may be familiar with the area they’re working in but not the actual road that they’re on. Snowmobilers and ATV operators don’t always note the location of the trails they’re on. And emergency responders may not know the access point of a field.

That’s what happened in the late summer of 2014. Seven-year-old Emily Trudeau was riding with her dad in his tractor when she fell from the cab. She lay critically injured in a field while her parents frantically called 911. To their horror, the emergency response team was unable to find the location of the accident. The wait was too long, and Emily died of her injuries.

As is often the case, this unimaginable tragedy brought the community together, not only to support the Trudeau family but to honour Emily’s life and to ensure that no other family suffers the same devastating experience.

Farm 911: The Emily Project was launched to “improve emergency services in our rural communities” by helping farmers and landowners obtain proper civic address signs on fields and woodlots and by promoting the need to maintain emergency access to those properties.

A civic street address is something many of us assume is a given. In most municipalities, properties with an existing home, or those with building permits are assigned a civic address. When 911 is called from a land-based phone, the civic address is automatically relayed to emergency dispatchers. But here’s the problem: If a piece of property – a farmer’s field or a woodlot – doesn’t have a structure on it, it is considered vacant, and vacant land isn’t assigned a civic address. When a 911 call is received from a cell phone in a field without a civic address, the only information available to the dispatcher comes from the caller’s verbal description of the location.

Resi Walt, who represents the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, a group that is promoting the importance of the Farm 911 project throughout the province, reiterates that an emergency cell phone call without a civic address means that dispatchers and first responders are limited to the caller’s description of where they are.

But the work of the people behind Farm 911 is paying off. Walt notes that Northumberland was the first county in Eastern Ontario to move ahead with the Farm 911 initiative. The municipality has developed a rural civic address system that can be used as a blue print across the province. Prince Edward County and Hastings County are also on board with the project. As awareness grows, more and more yellow rural 911 signs are showing up along municipal sideroads. In time, Walt hopes to see civic address access information on all annual tax bills throughout Ontario and, eventually, across the country.

The impact of Farm 911: The Emily Project is being felt throughout the Watershed region. Last Christmas, Shawn Donnan, a former dairy farmer from Stirling turned metal artist at Horizon Metal Works decided to honour Emily Trudeau’s memory. He surprised the Trudeau family with one of the metal sculptures that have become his signature. The globe – lined in Farm Girl Proud pink – tells the story of Emily’s life but also acts as a reminder to anyone visiting the Trudeau farm of the importance of civic addressing within the community. “I thought this would be… because of the uniqueness of the globes we do… a nice memory, a reminder,” said Shawn.

Farmers have inherently risky jobs, but the Farm 911 project aims to make their jobs and their lives safer by advocating for rural addressing programs and educating the community on its impact, all the while paying tribute to the Trudeau family. The people and organizations behind Farm 911: The Emily Project are determined to ensure that Emily’s death wasn’t in vain, but rather a force for positive change.

For more information contact your municipality or visit www.farm911.ca

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