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Fire/police boat pact on stormy seas

Fire District 7 wants to be able to use the Port Orchard Police Department’s boat to respond to marine aid calls, but the city isn’t sure it’s ready to extend the gangplank yet.

Fire district officials have submitted a proposed mutual-aid agreement to the city for consideration. The document would give firefighters — especially paramedics — access to the POPD police boat in the case of water emergencies. It would extend the district’s reach to all water surrounding its boundaries and ensure swift repsonse via a relay team of marine and ambulance-based crews.

As part of the agreement, a certified marine police officer would chauffeur the responding aid team to the scene and return to dock with any patients in need of transport.

Police Chief Al Townsend said this part of the agreement excited the city — currently, there is no way for medical personnel to respond to emergencies on boats or other watercraft — but was turned off by other aspects of the document.

“They want to put Fire District 7 (logos) on the boat,” said Townsend, who pointed out the boat already bears a “rescue” insignia.

The police boat, a 22-foot Boston Whaler, has been a special project of the department since it was first purchased a year ago. After Townsend acquired the boat hulk for free from a government surplus website, department volunteers put in time cleaning the boat, painting it and fixing it up.

At the time, Townsend approached the fire department to ask for some sort of contribution, but the district, suffering from financial difficulties, could not kick in.

Even though the city supports a partnership between the police department and fire district, Townsend said he doesn’t think the city council will support giving the district a free ride, so to speak. The boat costs money to operate and, because no one in the district is certified to drive the vessel, would require taking a city officer out of commission for the length of the run.

“And we’re all for having them out there, but I don’t think anybody’s going to go for them putting no money in and still making it look like their boat,” Townsend said.

Other issues will have to be hashed out before the agreement can be solidified, as well.

One of the biggest issues may involve the initial dispatch from CenCom. Few emergencies require both police and fire to be toned out at the same time and, in the case of a water-based call, the responding officer and aid crew would have to hit the dock at roughly the same time for maximum efficiency. The fire district plans to make its Tremont station the marine dispatch point, but CenCom dispatchers would have remember that and also remember to dispatch the appropriate marine officer at the same time.

If the whole Tremont staff was out on other calls, or if there were no marine officers on duty, things could get very complicated, Townsend said.

“Luckily, the way shifts are working out, there’s somebody (marine-certified) on a great deal of the day,” he said.

Townsend is confident, however, that the issues of decals and dispatch will be worked out in the end. Major medical emergencies on the water are rare — most times boaters can pilot themselves back to a safe port and seek care there.

In addition, although the district will likely install a small pump on board the boat, the police boat will not be expected to perform major firefighting duties.

It’s probably just as well, joked the district’s board of commissioners — the boat isn’t very large and firefighters in full gear would sink very fast if they fell overboard.

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