Fire Company Buys Boat, Launches Rescue Program
The saving of three lives with a borrowed boat by members of the Jacksonville, Md., Volunteer Fire Company led directly to the acquisition of a boat for the company and the training of personnel in water rescue.
After its experience two years ago in saving lives from floods caused by tropical storm Agnes, the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Company formed a committee to consider the purchase of a boat. After weeks of study, we decided to buy a 14-foot flat-bottom, aluminum boat with flotation and a 25-horsepower motor. We felt that this boat was best suited to our needs as our experience in northern Baltimore County showed that a boat and motor often had to be carried by hand to remote areas, making lightness desirable.
Our boat performs well on lakes and just about anywhere we have used it. However, only you and your company can decide what is the proper boat for your operations.
When we bought our boat and equipment, we requested volunteers from our fire fighters and ambulance personnel to set up our water rescue team. This began practical training as well as the establishment of our rules and operating procedures. At first only the best swimmers and persons basically familiar with boats were picked, but through an in-depth training program, we obtained additional men from company personnel. During our first two practical training sessions, we were called to respond to river rescues.
Our boat is towed by our utility truck, which carries a three-man crew. Some of the equipment carried is as follows: a wire basket stretcher, orthopedic stretcher, blankets, resuscitator and a specially built dolly for the boat motor. All other equipment is kept in the boat.
In addition to the utility truck, our two brush units have towing hitches in case the utility truck is unavailable. Also, we asked some of our neighboring companies to have towing hitches placed on their brush units in case of a breakdown while we were responding in their district. This situation did occur once and because the company we were assisting did not have a hitch mounted on its brush unit, considerable time was lost in getting the boat back into service.
Boat crew in charge
Upon request, we train neighboring companies in how to assist us before and after we arrive. I might stress that once on the scene, the boat crew assumes full command and must have the cooperation of all agencies involved during the rescue. If you have a State Marine Division, as we do in Maryland, they must be notified and once on the scene they assume full responsibility for the situation. This generally occurs in water recovery cases. In Baltimore County, our running assignment for a water rescue is an engine company, rescue squad, ambulance and battalion chief.
As some of the rescue companies in Baltimore County have boats at their disposal, they respond with a boat or request one. Our company does not have a rescue unit. However, we have requested our central alarm headquarters to automatically dispatch our boat on all water rescue calls within our nearest rescue company’s area, which encompasses a very large area extending to the Maryland-Pennsylvania Border from the central Baltimore City-County line.
In water rescue, a wide variety of equipment must be readily available. It must be remembered that the weight of the equipment in the boat plus the crew’s weight must be considered at all times.
Only two men in boat
We instituted a procedure that a maximum of two members be in the boat at one time and that only the equipment necessary for the specific rescue be carried in the boat during the rescue or recovery. There is a reason for this. If the boat is swamped or sinks, as happened to us in one rescue in which we saved two lives, all the equipment will not be lost or damaged.
We generally wear only trousers, T shirts and tennis or deck shoes and lifejackets during summertime rescues. In the winter, regular turnout gear is used, although wet suits or lightweight foul weather gear are more desirable. An important factor to remember in the wintertime is to not keep your crew out in the boat for long periods of time, bearing in mind that they are completely exposed to the elements and will tire more rapidly once they become cold and wet.
One of our procedures is that all water rescue personnel report to the station after the initial response and remain there in case relief is required. They only leave or secure the station once the boat is returning to the station.
The basic items we carry in our boat include four life preservers (Coast Guard approved), 6-foot pike pole, 300-foot coiler, 1/2-inch nylon line with safety hooks, cars, first aid kit with airways, line-throwing gun kit, two grappling hooks, 6-volt hand light, anchor and 100-foot line, towline with floats attached, set of wheel chocks, set of drag lines and miscellaneous hooks.
I am sure that this list will be expanded as future operations indicate.
We have saved, or assisted in saving, 22 lives and participated in one water recovery case within the last year.