Special Rescue

Rope and Water Rescue part of District’s services

Every year, Camano Island Fire and Rescue Capt. Ryan Shaughnessy can count the lives saved. As the waters around Camano Island become more popular, the flood of locals and visitors who take to the waters – many without life jackets – increases. So do the dangers. In 2013, CIFR’s rescue team has pulled four people from the frigid island waters.

water rescue

extensive training goes into water rescue

There have been more water rescues than cardiac cases. When you live on an island, water rescue is very important.

“A critical part of the rescue effort lies in prevention,” said Capt. Shaughnessy. Two years ago, they pulled three people out of the water on the island’s west side. “They had our life jackets on,” he said, sounding quite pleased.

Too often, the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket, and time is everything. During crabbing and shrimp season, the number of boaters increases dramatically on the island. “People come from everywhere to use Camano Island launches,” he said. That means a huge increase in population on the island, and a tremendous amount of work for our water rescue teams.

As a result, every firefighter with the department is trained for this. With three boats, including a 28 foot fireboat, the more than 40 water rescue technicians and 13 fire boat operators are increasingly ready for the possibilities. All firefighters at CIFR are trained to operate the boat. In fact, the District provides water rescue education for neighboring districts, said Shaughnessy. They have trained Snohomish County District 15, North, Central and South Whidbey Fire Districts, several Skagit County Fire Districts and the Lake Stevens Fire District.

They are always looking for efficiencies. Recently they entered into a new dispatch agreement for more mutual aid from Whidbey Island. Camano Island’s team responds to suicide attempts off Deception Pass bridge, and the recent fire of a derelict boat in Penn Cove. Sixteen hours of fire suppression, 10,000 gallons of water, and 60 gallons of foam were used by CIFR’s fire boat team in that operation.

Recently, CIFR water rescue teams have pulled from the water several people whose boats capsized, including a commercial crabbing vessel, and two rowboats.

Shaughnessy is the District’s liaison for the Puget Sound Maritime Consortium’s Maritime Common Operating Picture (MCOP), which is working to regionalize water rescue, and port and homeland security response.

Shaughnessy says the District has come a long way since the 1990’s when firefighters launched a small Livingston boat and two small inflatable soft bottom boats without radar or GPS.

rope rescue is a foundational piece of rescue operations

rope rescue is a foundational piece of rescue operations

While the marine rescue operations may get more media attention, the department’s rope rescue operations are also a critical piece of the technical rescue response on Camano Island.

“Much of our shoreline is high bluff,” quoted one Assistant Chief. “Quite often it is a home owner’s pet that goes over a cliff. If we don’t go get the dog, nine times out of 10 we’ll have to go after the owner instead. Just recently, we arrived on the scene to find the dog’s owner tying himself off with an electrical extension cord!”

The department has made a commitment to train every one of its career members in rope rescue; six team members are at the technician level, requiring at least 40 hours of training, though most have 90 or more hours.

They have all had extensive training. In addition, the rope rescue equipment and methods are frequently used in other rescue operations, such as fire incidents and car accidents.