Fire officials hope that a newly purchased rescue boat, able to launch in just a few minutes, will be instrumental in rescuing some of the more than two dozen people a year who fall into the Bay.
Equipped with GPS navigation, infrared capabilities and night-vision technology, South City’s 23-foot Safeco rescue boat is scheduled to begin responding to calls in early October.
"The reason we wanted this boat is because we get about 25 calls a year for rescues on the water in our jurisdiction alone," Fire Chief Philip White said.
In the past firefighters have sometimes had to commandeer boats at Oyster Point Marina when called to rescue windsurfers, extinguish boat fires, tow in broken boats or recover cars that have been driven into the Bay. In other circumstances they’ve had to wait 30 to 45 minutes for the U.S. Coast Guard.
While Foster City, Menlo Park and Redwood City have smaller boats, South City’s can operate in rougher water and farther out on the Bay, officials said. With a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, firefighters hope to be able to respond to calls in about five minutes, from the boat dock at Oyster Point, said firefighter Tim Maguire, who is in charge of the department’s aquatics operations.
South City has about five miles of coastline and its jurisdiction extends out into the middle of the Bay, White said.
"I remember one call about eight years ago where an older gentleman got disoriented and drove down theboat ramp and into the water at Oyster Point," White said. Because the vehicle had already rolled away from shore a boat was commandeered and a long pole used to locate it, but the victim had already died by the time he was found, White said.
Having a boat on hand that can respond in minutes might help save victims in similar situations, White said. The Fire Department will work in coordination with harbor patrol officers, who will pilot the boat on most rescues and moor it at Oyster Point, White said.
Valued at about $160,000, the vessel was purchased by the department for about $15,000 from the Coast Guard through a federal surplus equipment program. It was shipped over from Kawai, Hawaii, and arrived last week.