A collaborative effort by San Juan County Sheriff Rob Nou, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, the Department of Homeland Security, the Captain of the U.S. Coast in Seattle resulted in a $789,000 grant to build a public safety boat for the county.
Lack of cooperation by the local fire and EMS agencies may result in an opportunity lost.
Sheriff Nou updated the council on the status of the project April 24, 2013, "To me this is a complete no brainer. I am absolutely thunderstruck by how difficult the politics of this project have proved to be so far. But I can be pretty tenacious. I am still optimistic we will still make something happen. Provided we are still in partnership with San Juan Fire it will have fire fighting capability."
"As the sheriff of San Juan County, I see an incredible opportunity to obtain an asset for public safety serving all the islands and the waters in between. As the only agency with county-wide jurisdiction it is my responsibility to do the right thing by all of our residents and visitors in keeping them safe and secure."
"This public safety vessel accomplishes those goals with minimal local capital outlay and a mechanism to share the operating expenses and risk exposure with our partner agencies. All of these districts served are entirely within San Juan County and so the folks being served are our citizens and taxpayers and our visitors as well."
Two years ago, when the aging District 2 boat was in for repairs, it was 3,000 tons overweight. Breaches of the outer hull of the Boston whaler had resulted in absorption of water. Last time it was in for service and repairs, hole had been drilled to drain water. Water poured out during the entire time it was in for repairs.
San Juan County has four ferry docks, more water than land, rescues are made and fires are fought on remote inhabited islands, dive platforms are needed when planes crash and medical evacuations are necessary when planes can't fly due to weather conditions.
Nou gave as one example, a man with dementia who was missing on Orcas. He was found in a remote area by rescuers using the Town of Friday Harbor's fire boat Confidence. It would have taken much longer for searchers on land to have found him.
Since San Juan County waters include 49 miles of international border, an application was made for grant for a boat through the Homeland Security program. It's a nation-wide competitive process.
U.S. Representative Rick Larsen read a story by Colleen Armstrong, editor of the Islands Sounder about a presentation Sheriff Nou did before the Orcas Fire District Commission regarding the need for a boat. Larsen contacted Nou and shepherded the grant through the process. The county was awarded the full amount.
The county was required to provide a $229,000 grant. Last week Nou was informed his request to have this waived was granted by Homeland Security.
His efforts to form a public safety partnership group which would "have skin in the game" has not proceeded as smoothly.
The Orcas Fire Commission, which spends upwards of $300,000 on fire engines, voted last month to not commit $25,000 a year to the boat. Ironically the first fire the Town of Friday Harbor fire boat Confidence fought was on the shoreline in Deer Harbor.
Lopez Fire District is leaning against the project, Nou said. San Juan EMS is against but will consider if the proposed funding arrangement can be renegotiated.
Nou is making a presentation before the San Juan Fire District at a special meeting at noon today at the Mullis Street Fire Station.
Nou's entire presentation to the council can be viewed online. Click on 11:26 a.m. in the meeting.
More than a decade ago former Sheriff Bill Cumming fought the County Commission over the need for a boat to replace three small aging boats. He finally purchased the Guardian which arrived in 2005 by using money seized in a drug raid. It has been used in numerous medical evacuations after it was retrofitted for EMS use.
The Town of Friday Harbor purchased a fire boat in 2002. They are the only public agency to do so. It has been heavily used to fight fires in the entire county. Also for rescues and as a dive platform for rescues and recovery operations after aircraft and diving accidents.
San Juan Island Fire Department which now provides fire service for the town is seeking to replace the Confidence. The grant provides the ability to design the boat with fire fighting ability including its use as a fire hydrant (using salt water) in case of a disaster in town.
If the EMS agencies do not join in, the boat will not be designed for medical evacuation. It will be large enough. But the EMTs will need to bring their own equipment aboard, said Nou.