Fourth of July weekend a busy time for marine fire department
By Alissa Smith | The (Lynchburg) News & Advance Jul 5, 2017
Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire/Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Jason Halm pulled back on the throttle of the company fireboat as he neared a clear area of the lake.
The afternoon sun reflected off the water on July 1 as he checked the radio inside the ship’s cabin. As of 3 p.m., he had been on shift for nine hours.
Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest times for the department, matched only by Labor Day and Memorial Day weekend, Halm said.
“It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of thing,” he said. “Our incident volume sometimes doubles, if not triples.”
The department had already responded to four calls by 2 p.m., with an average of one to two calls per day on a normal weekend, he said.
“By the time we clock out at midnight tonight, we’ll probably have 10 or 15 total, whether it be calls or just to assist boaters,” he said.
Deputy Chief Ray Talley said the department has run as many as 17 calls in one day during a July 4th weekend.
“These were mostly boating incidents,” he said. “But that was during the years we had 500 calls a year.”
Nowadays, he said the department gets around 250 to 300 calls annually.
He paused and warned the crew to take a break and eat when they could.
“I’m telling you, they’re coming,” Talley said. “As it gets closer to [night], we’ll get busier.”
SMLMFR President Tommy Lovegrove said there were an excessive number of incidents as of the afternoon of July 1.
“We’ve had two patients evac’d out of here,” he said. “On Fourth of July weekend, this is typical. We gear up for it, we prep for it.”
To prep for the weekend and the subsequent increase in call volume, the normal 12 to 15 members scheduled for a weekend was bumped up to a total of 42, Halm said.
The department has a total of eight boats, with one on land in a trailer, which Lovegrove said is for fast response and is kept at Westlake.
The other seven are docked at Bridgewater Plaza, Gills Creek Marina, Indian Point Marina, Crazy Horse Marina, Virginia Dare Marina, Smith Mountain Dock and Lodge and the Waterwheel Marina.
All seven were on the water Fourth of July weekend.
“What we do is we map out the density of the accidents based on the previous two years, and then we can predict where we’re going to have accidents,” Lovegrove said. “We map them in July and August because that’s the highest density of accidents.”
That map of accidents also provides time intervals, Lovegrove said.
“So with standard linear progression models, we can tell ‘Okay, from this period on July , 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. we’re going to have four accidents between [channel markers] R26 and R30,’” he said.
“And so we put two boats out. Sure enough, that happened this year and we had instantaneous response time.”
According to data, the area between Hales Ford Bridge and channel marker R31 is the most accident-prone area, Lovegrove said.
“This is the happening spot,” Lovegrove said, explaining how the S-curve and shallow pockets play a role in the number of crashes.
The main cause is boater neglect, Lovegrove said.
Halm agreed and said that though Virginia requires drivers of personal watercraft and boats with motors more than 10 horsepower to take a boating safety course, a lot of people still don’t know basic rules.
More safety education and enforcement could help, Halm said.
Regardless, the department does what it can.
“That’s all you can do, is be ready with guys ready to roll when the pagers go off,” Lovegrove said.
Though the agency doesn’t enforce any policies, they do support ones like Operation Dry Water, an initiative by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries that ran from June 30 to July 2.
According to a VDGIF news release, Operation Dry Water means heightened enforcement of boating under the influence laws.
“If a patient’s blood alcohol level is excessive, we’re obviously treating that person, making sure they stay alive,” Lovegrove said. “We bring the paramedics to the scene, transport the patients to paramedics, give them liquids and get them rolling.”
Halm turned the 28-foot boat slowly back toward Bridgewater Marina, taking care to avoid another boat, when a handful of personal watercrafts darted in front of him.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ll be seeing them later tonight.”.
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Fourth of July weekend a busy time for marine fire departmentBy Alissa Smith | The (Lynchburg) News & Advance Jul 5, 2017Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire/Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Jason Halm pulled back on the throttle of the company fireboat as he neared a clear area of the lake.The afternoon sun reflected off the water on July 1 as he checked the radio inside the ship’s cabin. As of 3 p.m., he had been on shift for nine hours.Fourth of July weekend is one of the busi...
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The Smith Mountain Lake Marine Fire/Rescue is actively seeking new members. Members can be firefighters, EMT's or simply someone that wants to help the community. If you feel that you have that calling to help others, that is the person we would like to speak with. Please drop us a note on this page or submit an application at Bedford County Department of Fire and Rescue.
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