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New marine rescue plan nearly set

A privately owned boat manned in part by fire department volunteers may soon be rescuing people in distress in Puget Sound.

Despite a few questions about certain wording and some reservations about past performance and training issues, the North Whidbey Fire and Rescue District is close to reaching a mutual aid agreement for marine rescue with Captain John Aydelotte.

Aydelotte’s Marine Services, headquartered at Cornet Bay, operates several boats that render assistance to foundering mariners and others in need of water rescue.

At Tuesday’s meeting, fire commissioners proposed clarifying some of the wording in the written agreement in order to make it more specific, and answered questions from volunteer firefighters as to how the agreement would work once it is enacted.

On Aug. 14, Aydelotte proposed a cooperative agreement between his company and the fire district for water rescue.

Then as now the Island County Sheriff’s Department, the agency which is supposed to be the primary responder in water rescue situations, does not have a boat in service.

As a result, the burden of water rescue has fallen upon the North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

For the 18 months the fire district has been working on obtaining a new rescue boat, but has had several deals fall through and has yet to obtain another watercraft. As a result, a backup boat is still needed.

Aydelotte’s company has five boats in the fleet, three at Cornet Bay, one at Oak Harbor Marina and another in Anacortes. He offered his services to the fire district at what he described as a nominal cost.

Under the proposed agreement, the fire district would pay Marine Services boat captains $30 per hour during water rescue situations except for Aydelotte, who said he would work for free, the only other compensation being the cost of fuel.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners proposed setting the cost of fuel at no more that the current rate at the Cornet Bay Marina.

“We couldn’t do a comparison of fuel costs to what the price is in town because you wouldn’t have the trucking fees,” Fire Chief Marv Koorn said.

Bruce Carman, chairman of he board, said he thought that basing the fuel compensation rate on what it was at the marina was a good idea.

Questions were raised about what Marine Services’ response time would be if it was called out and how communications would be handled.

In addition, it was asked whether the Island County Sheriff’s Office would be involved in the agreement.

Carman said he had spoken with Aydelotte who said the response time would be five minutes to get a boat in the water.

Commissioner Larry Morse said it would be impossible to get a boat in the water in five minutes if you had to come from Cornet Bay to Oak Harbor.

“John meant five minutes for the boats in Cornet Bay,” Carman said. “Naturally it would take longer to get a boat captain to Oak Harbor to launch.”

“You would also have to include the time it would take to get two of our firefighters to the launch site,” Koorn said. “Marine Services will not be launching without two of our trained firefighters on board.”

Koorn added that Sheriff Mark Brown wanted no part of the agreement, but was working on getting one of the sheriff’s rescue boats repaired and put in service.

“I was told this could be as early as April,” Carman said.

Morse remarked the agreement with Aydelotte was a “stop gap” measure for the fire district until the sheriff’s department was able to get their boat back in service.

Koorn said he liked the words “stop gap.” “That’s about what it is,” he said.

Firefighters raised some questions about Aydelotte not responding to a water rescue where a boat had overturned off Strawberry Point and said his performance in that situation was “a failure.”

Aydelotte was quoted in the Whidbey News-Times as saying it was “Coast Guard weather,” too rough for his smaller Oak Harbor boat.

The two victims in the incident were rescued by a fire department boat from Camano Island.

Questions were also asked about whether Marine Services employees would be required to have the same certification and training as firefighters.

Carman said Aydelotte told him his employees did have training at which time, Morse made the remark about just “taking someone at their word without doing any checking.”

“Marine Services will not be launching its boats without our trained firefighters and they will not be responsible for treating patients,” Carman said.

Koorn said there is no guarantee the department will contact Marine Services for every water rescue situation.

“That decision will be left entirely up to the commanding officer on duty,” he said.

Aydelotte said he was happy the agreement had finally been worked out and didn’t anticipate any problems getting the program in place.

“It’s sort of like, how can they look a gift horse in the mouth,” he said with a laugh. “But seriously, the main thing is to be able to respond to rescues adequately.”

Aydelotte said he was entering into a business deal with a bureaucracy so he expected to encounter some problems.

“But nothing we can’t get worked out,” he said. “We live on an island and it’s just a small part of the big picture. What this agreement will do is upgrade their training and services and save the taxpayers a lot of money.”

The agreement will be submitted to the board for approval at the next fire board meeting after the revisions are made and after it is checked by the fire district’s attorney.

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