‘It’s our responsibility to help protect people on the water, as well as land’

Cullman County volunteer fire departments looking to expand Smith Lake coverage

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Multiple Cullman County volunteer fire departments have purchased this pontoon boat and are seeking to outfit it as an emergency response platform and to purchase more boats.  (Photo courtesy Jennifer Young/GoFundMe)

LOGAN, Ala.  – As the popularity of Smith Lake continues to rise, so do the chances of emergencies on and around the water.  Seven fire departments whose service areas include portions of the lake, along with others, have banded together in an effort to extend their reach beyond the shores and onto the lake itself.  They have purchased a pontoon boat and are attempting to outfit if for firefighting and rescue, by means of a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe.com.  The group will also seek to purchase and outfit more boats in the future.

Logan Fire and Rescue Chief Toby Bates explained: “The boat for Smith Lake is something that’s been needed for a long time.  There are seven county fire departments that border Smith Lake.  None of our departments has had a way to get to any emergency on the water.  In the past, with boat fires or boat accidents, all we can do is stand ashore with no way to get to the incident.  The only way to get emergency personnel out to a location is to ask another boater or commandeer a boat.  There have been numerous times fire departments have needed a boat and not had one.”

He continued, “The lake is in our coverage areas and it’s our responsibility to help protect people on the water, as well as land.  We all have known of the need, but buying a boat can be expensive and equipping it properly to perform the job needed.  We created a committee of the seven fire departments’ chiefs to look into a solution for this issue of no way to respond on water. The fire chiefs of all departments met, which include Trimble, Loretto, Logan, Dodge City, Crane Hill, Bremen, Cold Springs; we all have lake coverage.  Good Hope joined in also, and we discussed the need to have a boat, and we all agreed it was time to do something, so we all came together and pooled our money together to buy a pontoon boat to use for fire/rescue situations.”

One boat conversion underway; more needed

“We also agreed that we need at least three boats that are spread out in different locations for quick response,” said Bates.  “The boat we bought, we are doing some minor work to it getting it outfitted with emergency lights and a fire pump to be able to use for firefighting, and also equip with medical equipment on the boat.  The boat we bought is not the ideal boat, but it’s a start to at least have something.

“The other boats we will have to buy through donations that are made or money we can secure in some way.  Fire departments don’t have a lot of funding as it is, and fire and medical equipment is very expensive.  The only way we could start this is with us all going in together as one.

“Cullman County residents should be proud that we have made steps to at least get something going for emergencies when we had nothing at all.  The second boat we are wanting to buy is $28,500, but it could sell before we get up the money.  We eventually would like to see a true fire/rescue boat on the lake, but these boats are in excess of $200,000.”

Seeking bases of operation

Bates shared that the departments hope to keep boats as readily accessible to the lake as possible at all times once they are ready for service, but they are still searching for a suitable location.

Said Bates, “We will keep the boats on the lake if we can find a place to keep them.  Right now, that has been difficult to do: the marinas are full, and the only other option is to tie the boat to a dock somewhere that is easily accessed for us to respond.  We need help with a location from anyone on the lake with a spot willing to help.  We want a boat around Smith Lake Park and another boat at Big Bridge area and a third boat, maybe, in between those areas.”

The chiefs’ committee hopes to have staff from the various departments on a schedule to have as many crews as boats ready to respond to emergency calls on the lake, using whatever boat and crew are closest to the location of the incident.

More funds mean more power and faster responses

Bates told The Tribune that the pontoon boat with its 70-horsepower engine won’t exactly be a rapid response vehicle, but he hopes to install a larger engine when funds are available.

He shared, “With limited funding, we are doing the best we can.  People donating to help would mean we can get bigger and faster boats for emergencies.  If every house that has a boat dock or is within sight of the lake would give $1 a month or $12 a year per house, we could purchase some very good equipment.  Everyone has to think of us when they are on the water: if they have an emergency, time is key for us to get to you.  If we can’t get to you, the outcome could be tragic.

“Also, with a boat capable of pumping water, this could be used for structure fires that are close to the water, as well.  We cannot get fire trucks to some of these places, because the drives are too steep.  A lot of houses we can get closer by boat and could use unlimited lake water to use for firefighting, or even pump water from the boat to a firetruck, if needed.  If there was a marina to catch fire, we would need a boat; we would not be able to get close enough with a fire truck.

“We are starting with the pontoon boat, and it belongs to the departments that put money up to buy it.  We are doing this as a group to help ensure a way to respond to emergencies on water.”

Get involved

“We need all the help and support we can get,” said Bates.  “People can donate directly to the departments listed above, or there is a GoFundMe page linked on Logan Fire and Rescue (Facebook) page where donations can be sent.  This money will be used to help buy fuel, equipment, money towards other boats, marina docking fees if we are able to secure a boat slip.”

For more information or to make a contribution, visit www.facebook.com/loganfirerescue/ or www.gofundme.com/boat-funds-cullman-county-volunteer-fire-depts.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com