Penticton fire department marine rescues up significantly, with summer only half over | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton fire department marine rescues up significantly, with summer only half over

FILE PHOTO- Penticton's new rescue craft displayed at a media conference on Skaha Lake earlier this year. The department had no sooner acquired the boats when calls for marine rescue began to rise.
July 28, 2017 - 11:32 AM

PENTICTON - The timing for the purchase of new water rescue craft by the Penticton Fire Department couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson says the department has already surpassed average annual call volumes for marine rescue by the department - and we haven't yet gotten to the August long weekend.

The department has answered 17 calls for marine rescue so far this year, compared to an average call volume of 15 for the entire year.

Two of those rescue calls came this week alone.

The department purchased two jet ski rescue craft last August, which are docked at Skaha Marine for the season.

More recently, following fundraising efforts last winter, a $200,000 rescue boat was launched on Okanagan Lake, replacing an aging and inadequate zodiac.

It is docked for the season at Penticton Marina.

In both cases, having the craft ready and waiting on the water has resulted in a significant reduction in response time for the department because they no longer need to launch a boat for every rescue.

Whether the increase in calls has something to do with weather and water levels this year, or the fact more people are now aware the department has enhanced rescue capabilities, Watkinson can’t say.

“I don’t think there’s anything specific - I don’t think it has anything to do with lake levels, but the channel is still deep. I don’t think people realize how fast the water’s moving, and the volume of water that’s going through,” he says, noting several of those marine rescue calls have been channel rescues.

"I think it’s just a busy year for us. Maybe all the fundraising we did for the rescue boat and the publicity we’ve had over the new rescue craft, people are understanding we actually have a comprehensive system in place for water rescue. Maybe people are just more open minded and willing to call for help,” he says.

Watkinson has some words of advice for those venturing out on open water or the river channel.

"Let people know where you’re going, give them a timetable. Last night we answered a distress call and the person was just getting himself back to the beach, but nobody really knew the plan. Instead of frantically calling 911 to say you haven’t seen the party in a few hours, get a time frame from those going out on the water,” he says.

When using the channel, Watkinson says: "Don’t tie rafts together on the channel, that’s just a dangerous situation for any floater. Those bridge abutments will flip you upside down and pin you against your raft and the abutment, and that will drag you under water, life jacket or not."

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