News: Fort Eustis firefighters ensure safe sailing at Norfolk's OpSail 2012
Story by Senior Airman Jason Brown
NORFOLK, Va. -- The Elizabeth River running adjacent to Norfolk's harbor side bustled with the sound of music and merriment, as visitors climbed gangways to tour a collection of the world's most majestic tall sailing ships and impressive naval vessels during the city's Operation Sail 2012 celebration, which took place June 1-12.
The event drew thousands of visitors, many who arrived via boat. To ensure the safety of boaters and passengers, firefighters from Fort Eustis' fire department brought out a boat of their own, and provided safety patrols on the water during the event.
A three-man squad joined a pair of hazardous materials experts from Fort Pickett, Va., aboard Fort Eustis Fireboat 30, a 25-foot fireboat, to patrol the river, splitting shifts with other local first responders. The team participated as part of the Maritime Incident Response Team, a collective of local law enforcement, fire and rescue, state and federal agencies providing maritime assets to respond to waterfront and waterborne emergencies.
Lieutenant Dave Wilder, one of Eustis' firefighters participating, said the festive atmosphere provided ample opportunity for revelers to act irresponsibly. With so many people on and near the water, first responders need to be standing by at a moment's notice. Eustis' firefighters answered the call, prepared to provide rescue assistance and fire suppression.
"We're out here to help in case something goes wrong. There are a lot of boats out on the river, and a lot of folks drinking and partying," Wilder said. "All it takes is for someone to have too much to drink or not pay attention, and it can turn in to a serious emergency."
The firefighters came prepared, wielding an on-board fire suppression system that uses surrounding water to feed a hose to battle fires, life-saving apparatuses and first-aid supplies.
While the team did not encounter any major emergencies, they did come to the aid of vessels in distress.
"On Wednesday, we actually towed a crabbing boat whose engine died and left it stranded in the water," Wilder said. "We towed it from the marine terminal back to Willoughby Spit."
The crew also wrangled and towed an abandoned sailboat found adrift in an adjacent marina.
"Some folks had called and asked for assistance about a sailboat banging against their boat," said firefighter Tim Murphy. "When we got there, there wasn't anyone on the boat. They must've launched a dinghy to go across the river to the festivities and failed to properly anchor the boat."
Murphy, a former Air National Guard firefighter with the 192nd Fighter Wing, said the shifts were long, but the team enjoyed being a part of the celebration.
"It's a lot of fun out here. Getting a chance to see the ships and be amongst the people is exciting," he said. "I was planning to come down here anyway, but once we picked up the shifts on the river, I got my chance to see it all from the best seat in the house."