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Captiva, Sanibel fire crews conduct drill at Blind Pass

By Staff | Sep 2, 2009

Because of the strong current that is now ripping through the newly opened Blind Pass, the Captiva and Sanibel Fire Departments – in partnership with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office – conducted rescue drills in order to be prepared for any potential emergencies that might arise in the area.

Tuesday afternoon’s drill was conducted partly in response to an accident that occurred on Aug. 20, when a local girl and her friend were unexpectedly swept a half-mile into the gulf as they were playing in Roosevelt Channel.

“It’s a joint operation between the Sanibel Fire Department and the Captiva Fire Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s office,” said Lt. Joe Poppalardo, noting that two volunteer SERAT vessels had also shown up for the drill. “We’re doing the training exercise so we can be prepared to do a rescue. It’s good to get all the agencies on the same page.”

“We have a dummy that we’re going to drop off of the bridge and see how it floats out,” said Capt. Don Montgomery of the Captiva Island Fire Control District.

“We’re going to throw the dummy in to see where and how fast it moves and exactly what’s going to happen,” Lt. Poppalardo added.

The Captiva firefighters assembled on the gulf-side of the bridge and dropped the dummy into the water below.

Capt. Alan Delameter of the CIFCD and Deputy Alan Falde of the Lee County Sheriff’s department waited patiently on a sheriff’s boat and quickly pulled the dummy out of the water and returned it to shore once it finally reached them.

Although the water was moving steadily underneath the bridge that afternoon, the current was slower than firefighters expected. However, with each new victim, the current’s speed seemed to increase.

Firefighter Shawn Kilgore acted as the next victim of the afternoon and Brian Howell of the Sanibel Fire Department implemented a surfboard to rescue him.

Chief Jay Halverson of the CIFCD also braved the current’s increasing strength.

One of the final drills of the day required Kilgore to be carried out by the current for eight minutes, just to see how far he would go.

Lt. Poppalardo estimated that, nearing the end of the eight minutes, Kilgore was already approximately 300 to 400 yards into the gulf.

“We’re all trained divers. But by the time we get a call, the victim is probably going to be offshore. We want to get there as quick as we can,” said volunteer firefighter Mark Wells.

“We’re in the process of making signs to post so that people don’t jump off the bridge,” said Lt. Poppalardo, noting how dangerous it is for anyone – even experienced swimmers – to risk swimming in the pass.