Ocean Shores, Washington, firefighters had to rescue a capsized boater from the shore last week because the city council defunded its water-rescue operations in 2013. The victim told the council Monday that he doesn’t understand how a city can have an ocean front and no water-rescue capabilities.
Firefighters arrived on scene to find Jim Brannan about 350 feet off shore clinging to his overturned fishing boat and pleading for help. He’d been in the cold water for about an hour.
“The man was too cold to make it in to shore on his own,” the department news release said. “Fire department personnel used the ResQmax air-propelled line gun to shoot a flotation device attached to a tag line near the victim. He was able to grab it and put on the flotation sling while the rescue crew pulled the man into shore.”
He was very close to having hypothermia and spent over 30 minutes in the back of the ambulance with blankets and heat packs while the EMS crew performed their evaluation.”
According to the Daily World, the city had a trained surf-rescue team made up of fire and police personnel. In 2013, it stripped the program’s $52,000 budget and later passed a resolution barring any tax money from being used for the program.
This is eerily familiar to the 2012 incident in Alameda, California, when firefighters remained on shore while a suicidal man waded into the San Francisco Bay and took his own life. Those firefighters were not certified for water rescue at the time and could not enter the water.
That incident wound up in court with the judge ruling the firefighters did nothing wrong, but with the city council reinstating funding for water rescue equipment and training to stave off the public outcry.
For firefighters, dilemmas like this are clear: They are expected to take the risks they are trained and equipped for and forbidden to take those risks for which they are not — yet to stand by and do little or nothing goes against every fiber of their being.
“I talked to those guys (who responded) afterward, and they told me their hands were tied,” Brannan said of the inability to perform a full water rescue. “They have been told, ‘Don’t go into the water.’”