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Fire department rescues stranded reservoir boaters

Staff writer

Hillsboro Fire Department put its new rescue boats to the test last week when firefighters responded to the aid of stranded boaters Thursday evening on Marion Reservoir.

After someone on shore made multiple attempts to contact the Army Corps of Engineers or the department wildlife and parks for help, emergency dispatchers paged Hillsboro firefighters to the scene.

“We were able to deploy quickly, but we weren’t in emergency mode,” fire chief Ben Steketee said. “We didn’t go with the lights and sirens on. It basically was a tow-job.”

The boaters, from McPherson, ran out of gas and were not in immediate danger, but their boat had no lights for rescuers to see them, Steketee said.

“We had to use our noggins a bit to figure out where the boat was because it was dark on the reservoir,” Steketee said. “Sheriff’s deputy Travis Wilson was on-scene and he helped a lot, he was vital.”

Wilson was able to help find the boat because he could see it from Cottonwood Point, while the firefighters could not see it from where they launched at Hillsboro Cove, Steketee said.

Fire captain Matt Hein coordinated the rescue. Having firefighters gain experience handling emergencies is vital to the department’s future success, Steketee said.

“If I have an officer who wants to take charge and is capable, I welcome that,” Steketee said. “Not because I’m lazy, but I want to raise them up to be able to do it. One day I won’t be here.”

In addition to the department’s two rescue boats, several firefighters also helped from shore.

The timing was fortunate, Steketee said, because if it was over the weekend there would have been more people trying to use the docks.

The department had trained to conduct water rescue by daylight, so they had to adapt for a night rescue.

“All of a sudden we had to think about needing lights,” Steketee said.

It marked their second boat rescue in under a month, since firefighters rescued boaters three weeks ago who also ran out of gas.

That was an easier task because the department already was doing rescue training at the time.

Last modified Sept. 10, 2020

 

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