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Sheriff’s Office receives grant for new boat

Currently, the Sheriff boat “Guardian” serves as a marine ambulance and emergency response vessel. - Contributed photo
Currently, the Sheriff boat “Guardian” serves as a marine ambulance and emergency response vessel.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office announced that it has been awarded a Federal Port Security Grant of up to $785,000 to acquire an emergency response boat to be available to fire agencies and emergency medical services as well as law enforcement.

Sheriff Rob Nou describes the project as a collaborative effort involving all EMS and fire departments throughout the county. The Sheriff’s Office is now working with the various agencies to craft an agreement on the joint operation of the boat.

The federal grant requires a local match that can be satisfied by staff time and other planned expenditures that should not increase costs to local taxpayers.

Orcas Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien says his department has not signed yet on to participate.

“Orcas Island Fire and Rescue has not made any commitments to participate in the proposal,” he said. “That being said, we recognize the importance of maintaining collaborative relationships with the other county emergency providers so the commissioners and I are continuing to evaluate and discuss a possible model for involvement.”

Nou said that currently no state or federal agency maintains emergency marine response equipment in the islands.

“Often, in marine emergencies, other agencies call us as first responders because of our proximity and local knowledge,” he said.

The initial design process is now underway for a vessel capable of serving as a marine ambulance for medical response to outer islands and medical transport to hospitals in weather conditions that make evacuation by air impossible. It will also be outfitted for marine rescue and dive response, equipped to fight marine, marina, and waterfront fires, and be an all-weather patrol boat for law enforcement and emergency response tasks necessary in San Juan County.

The new public safety boat is intended to replace two existing public safety vessels.  From the Sheriff’s Office, the 28-foot Boston Whaler patrol boat on Orcas is due to be retired. The Whaler is 25 years old, and the foam between the inner and outer hull is saturated with seawater, making the boat overweight inefficient and potentially unsafe.

San Juan Island Fire District 3 also plans to decommission its fireboat “Confidence” when the new boat, with greater fire-fighting capabilities, comes into service. The existing fire boat may be sold to another agency in the Puget Sound, helping to fund the project.

“San Juan County presents unique challenges to its public safety community because of its geography,” Nou said. “In an emergency, we must be able to move people between islands and to the mainland at all hours of the day and night and in all weather conditions.”

Currently, the Sheriff boat “Guardian” serves as a marine ambulance and emergency response vessel. Nou notes that during the five years that “Guardian” has been in service, there have been occasions where there have been emergency medical calls at same time from different islands.

“Guardian” is currently temporarily out of service for the repairs after running around during an emergency medical call in September.

When the new public safety boat comes into service, “Guardian” would be moved to Orcas Island, but remain available for emergencies throughout the county.

Nou is proposing a proportionate “share” in obtaining, operating and maintaining the new vessel into the future. The fire departments have yet to craft an agreement.

“We are evaluating the concepts of the proposal and have not made a decision to participate” O’Brien said.

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