Fire district receives first response vessel
The Captiva Island Fire District has taken possession of its first-ever fire and rescue boat.
On Dec. 6, a transport company for Louisiana-based manufacturer Metal Shark Boats dropped the vessel off at the Sanibel Boat Ramp, where district personnel were waiting. After removing the shrink wrap, reconnecting batteries and getting it in the water, it was taken to the Sanibel Marina for fuel.
“Everybody’s pretty excited about it,” Fire Chief Jeff Pawul of the newest asset.
“It’ll be super beneficial for us out here,” he added.
The boat has been a growing necessity for the district over the past few years. The average number of water-related calls in the last two years has increased about 10 percent as compared to prior years.
While the district has a personal watercraft in its inventory, any major on-water emergencies have required a call to outside agencies for assistance, like Sanibel, Pine Island and Iona-McGregor.
“It was a long time coming,” Pawul said.
In October 2017, the district was awarded a $300,000 grant from the West Coast Inland Navigation District, which encompasses Lee, Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. The funding covered the purchase, plus any accessory items. The final cost of the boat came out to approximately $248,000.
He noted that any leftover monies are returned to the grant program to fund other projects.
Prior to the vessel being delivered, Pawul traveled to Louisiana in mid-November to participate in inspections and sea trials for the boat. He explained that it is easier to fix mistakes at the factory.
“You basically review the specs and build sheet just to make sure the boat was built as according to plan, then you do an on-water sea trial,” Pawul said. “We tested the boat’s slow-speed maneuverability, high-speed maneuverability, electronics, fire pump. You essentially go through all the mechanicals.”
“It was a full day of going through all of it,” he added.
The inspections and sea trials were a success, but some minor issues needed correcting.
“Which is always expected with a custom-built anything,” Pawul said.
A hatch door for the pump was relocated for easier maintenance and regular access.
“Also, we use fire foam and not just straight water,” he said, explaining that the method is not commonplace in that area, so an adaptor had to be added in order for them to use the foam.
“Just small convenience-type items,” Pawul added of the adjustments.
Currently, the vessel is being housed at the marina at South Seas Island Resort.
“But that’s always subject to change,” he said.
Leading up to the boat’s delivery, Pawul provided his personnel a chance to take part in driving the vessel from Sanibel back to Captiva. Anyone interested in riding along could voice their interest, then he narrowed down the names based on their level of boating experience and effort put in at district.
“I wanted to give my staff the opportunity to take part in that maiden voyage,” Pawul said.
Firefighter-EMT Brandon Ehlen was selected to be the first mate.
“The only problem we ran into was it was one of the colder winder days, with big waves,” he said. “But it was good to be able to observe and go through the paces to see how it’s going to handle.”
Training on the boat for the entire crew will start in the next couple of weeks.
“We’ve got to kind of do a few things, outfitting it with our equipment and gear,” Pawul said.
The crew will first familiarize themselves with the vessel and where things are located.
“Then we’ll start doing some on-the-water training,” he said.
“The manufacturer will come down and do a little of it,” Pawul added.
The district is also partnering with the Sanibel Power Squadron to undergo a boating basics course, which will include classroom instruction and hands-on training. Continued training will follow.
“Just like anything else we do,” he said. “The training is ongoing from there.”
There will be “captains” and “first mates” assigned to each shift for when a call comes in.
“There will be a handful of guys per shift who will be approved to operate it,” Pawul said.