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South Whidbey fire boat adds options for waterfront assistance

Lanny Workman, a retired South Whidbey Fire/EMS battalion chief, christens the MV Salish Responder during a ceremony held Saturday at South Whidbey Harbor. - Photo courtsey of Sherrye Wyatt
Lanny Workman, a retired South Whidbey Fire/EMS battalion chief, christens the MV Salish Responder during a ceremony held Saturday at South Whidbey Harbor.
— image credit: Photo courtsey of Sherrye Wyatt

It’s done, it looks great and the MV Salish Responder is now officially in service.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS’s new fireboat was christened in a ceremony at South Whidbey Harbor Saturday morning. About 50 people attended the event, including a handful of fire district, port and city elected officials. The actual christening, accomplished with a bottle of champaign, was performed by Clinton resident and former fireman, Lanny Workman.

“It was an honor to be asked to do it, for an old guy like me,” said Workman, in an interview after the event.

A retired battalion chief, Workman founded the fire district marine response unit in 1982. They started out with an inflatable, which he said was versatile but lacked the capabilities of the new 32-foot aluminum catamaran. The Salish Responder is armed with two saltwater water cannons that can douse fires from 350 feet away.

“It’s a great boat,” Workman said. “It will serve the community well.”

Fire Chief Rusty Palmer echoed those sentiments, saying the vessel represents an unprecedented increase in the fire district’s marine response capabilities.

There are roughly 400 waterfront homes within South Whidbey Fire/EMS’s current boundaries. Some are difficult for fire engines to reach or have limited water supply, making the new boat — it uses saltwater for its water cannons — a powerful tool in the district’s firefighting arsenal. Along with the two mounted cannons, the boat also has multiple ports for hand lines, allowing the boat to be beached and firefighters to attack a blaze on foot.

Powered by twin 450 horsepower water-jet engines — it has no propellors — the vessel can also respond quickly to marine emergencies as far away as Coupeville. Had the boat been in service when the Deep Sea burned in Penn Cove in 2012, the vessel could have been on scene within 30 minutes, Palmer said.

Finally, catamarans are stable platforms that can operate in weather conditions too extreme for the fire district’s existing rigid inflatable marine unit.

“We have so much more capability today than we did yesterday,” Palmer said.

The vessel’s name was unveiled during Saturday’s christening. Palmer said coming up with Salish Responder proved challenging. The initial plan to have the boat named by South Whidbey students resulted in only two suggestions, and a request to the community saw similar returns. In the end, it was a collaborative effort among district officials, he said.

The boat’s builder, Tim Leonard of Freeland-based North Cross Aluminum, said the christening was a longtime coming, but that he was proud of the finished product and to see the vessel in service.

“Now I can pat the guys on the back,” Leonard said. “The boys did a great job.”

He added that it was nice hearing the complimentary comments of fire district officials, but that the greatest reward will be when the boat saves a life or a home, the job is was designed to do.

“As a builder, that’s where you want to see it perform,” Leonard said.

 

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