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North Whidbey water rescue deal approved

Cooperative water rescue is steaming full speed ahead now that minor wrinkles in the agreement have been ironed out and written revisions have been agreed upon by attorneys representing both parties.

At Tuesday evening’s North Whidbey Fire and Rescue board of commissioners meeting, after several months of negotiations, a cooperative agreement for water rescue between the fire district and Marine Rescue Services was approved and signed.

In August 2007, Capt. John Aydelotte, owner of the Cornet Bay-based Marine Rescue Services, made an offer to assist the fire district in water rescue situations.

At that time, the North Whidbey Fire and Rescue found itself in the situation of being first responders in water rescue emergencies.

By state law, local sheriff’s departments are supposed to be first responders. But with both Island County boats inoperative, the burden of water rescue fell upon the fire district and became a costly proposition.

Aydelotte has a fleet of five boats, three at Cornet Bay, one in Oak Harbor and one in Anacortes, and offered the use of his equipment and personnel to the fire district at a nominal cost.

“I am a big supporter of water rescue and I have kind of a unique fleet,” he said. “We can go out no matter what. I have a fast fleet and we are ready to respond.”

Under the plan, the only charges to the fire district would be $30 per hour to compensate one of Aydelotte’s captains plus the cost of fuel for the boat.

Aydelotte said if he were to go out as captain of one of the boats, there would be no $30 per hour charge. His services are free.

At previous fire district meetings, questions about the agreement were raised on various topics, ranging from communications, under what criteria Marine Rescue Services would be called out and who would make the decision, and the qualifications and training of Aydelotte and his employees.

As a result, a 22-point agreement was proposed by the fire district in December and after a lot of hard work by both parties, all the “sticking points” were resolved.

By a 2-1 vote at Tuesday’s meeting, with Chairman T.J. Lamont and Commissioner Bruce Carman voting in favor and Commissioner Larry Morse opposed, the final agreement was approved and signed.

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ from the bottom of my heart,” Aydelotte said after the agreement was approved. “This type of cooperation is unparalleled and my crew has over 50 years of experience as boat captains.”

Aydelotte told commissioners that employees of Marine Rescue Services have unprecedented knowledge of the area and are all skilled in various aspects of marine salvage including safety, search and rescue, fire fighting and diving among others.

In addition, all of his captains are Coast Guard certified.

“Your crew and my crew, when we get together, can make things better in a hurry,” Aydelotte said.

It is uncertain when the agreement will go into effect.

“I contacted my insurance company to make sure everything and everybody is covered and all the ‘I’s’ were dotted and the ‘T’s’ crossed. Right now, it’s up to them. Me, I’m ready to go today,” he said.

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