Chelan Fire & Rescue Response boat is on the lake and ready for emergencies

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Sunday morning was quiet on Lake Chelan and the perfect time for Chelan Fire & Rescue to conduct “Rescue Swimmer” training off Chelan Fire’s new Rescue Boat in front of the Chelan Ranger District. “We will double our volunteer base with this program,” said Deputy Chief Mark Donnell.

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Chelan Fire & Rescue’s 26-foot Defender Class Response Boat had a trial run early Sunday morning.

One resident saw the action and told me that she thought someone had drowned. “I quickly said a prayer for the family,” she said. What she saw was two trainees towing a dummy to the boat as a part of their training.

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The vessel was used to help train Chelan 7’s Rescue Swimmers on Sunday morning.

The 26-foot Defender Class Response Boat was purchased as surplus from the U.S. Coast Guard for $5,500 of which $3,000 came from the sale of the District’s old boat. It was outfitted with two used Honda 225 outboards, courtesy of the Chelan Fire Association and installed by Reed Marine.

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Chelan Fire Commission Chair Russ Jones pushed to obtain the vessel for the department. “We do live on a lake,” he once said. Jones has also received the OK from Commissioners Jay Witherbee and Phil Moller to help operate the boat without pay on the water. Jones is a certified pilot.

Chelan Fire Commission Chair Russ Jones pushed to have this response boat on the water by the summer boating season. The Fire District has requested moorage space at the Chelan Marina and City Administrator Mike Jackson will present the District’s proposal to City Council at its upcoming Council meeting on July 9.

Chelan Fire & Rescue swimmers received training on recovering a drowning victim from the lake bed on Sunday morning. Lt. Shawn Sherman is heading up the District’s Rescue Swimmer Program. When fully trained these swimmers will be able to dive to 30 feet to recover a victim.

It should be noted that the Chelan County Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction on Lake Chelan, but has been accepting of the new response boat as another potential life saver.

It should also be noted that there is no funding available for the operation of the boat and grants and donations are being sought to keep it in operation throughout the summer. The District can also rent the vessel to the U.S. Forest Service during wildfire events on Lake Chelan.

Eventually it will also be outfitted with a water pump for firefighting along the shoreline.

Under Coast Guard rules concerning surplus sales to agencies, the agency must agree to keep the vessel for at least 18 months. After that, if it doesn’t work out, the agency can put the vessel up for sale. The Defender Class Response Boats are currently listed for sale between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on how they are outfitted.

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The District’s boat will hopefully be moored at the Chelan Marina where it can respond immediately to accidents on the lake.

The ability to respond to marine accidents quickly will hopefully save some lives this summer. There has already been one drowning and a head on collision between two personal watercraft this season.

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