On Feb. 18, 2004, three Canadian men sailed a 30-foot sailboat up the California coast and directly into a confluence of factors, forces and errors that culminated in their craft being broached, capsized and ultimately destroyed off of San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The San Francisco Fire...
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Photo credit: Kim Komenich/San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Fire Department rescue personnel carry Eric Reid's jacket from the area where the sailboat sank.
Photo credit: Kim Komenich/San Francisco Chronicle
Rescuers enter the water from the air and from the beach to save the sailors.
Photo credit: Kim Komenich/San Francisco Chronicle
Rescuers enter the water from the air and from the beach to save the sailors.
Photo credit: Kim Komenich/San Francisco Chronicle
On Feb. 18, 2004, three Canadian men sailed a 30-foot sailboat up the California coast and directly into a confluence of factors, forces and errors that culminated in their craft being broached, capsized and ultimately destroyed off of San Francisco's Ocean Beach.
The San Francisco Fire Department launched an intense surf rescue operation in 12- to 15-foot waves and 30-45-mph winds to ultimately save the boat's owner and one of his crew, but sadly, not the owner's 22-year-old son. The initial saves were just the opening act to a massive joint surf search and rescue operation for the third man involving the San Francisco Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service and other agencies lasting more than four hours. Efforts finally had to be suspended due to darkness.
In January 2004, Randy Reid of Calgary, Alberta, purchased via the Internet a sailboat that was moored in Marina Del Ray, CA. He took possession of his craft and began bringing it north to its home port in Vancouver, British Columbia, but made it only as far as Santa Barbara, CA. On Feb. 14, Reid, 47, accompanied by his son Eric and a neighbor, Bradley Amos, 45, flew down to continue the voyage. The vessel had been deemed seaworthy for the voyage and carried all the safety equipment required by U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard regulations.
The three men sailed the vessel up the coast. Along the way, they were noted by a number of observers to be sailing unusually close to shore. On Feb. 17, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Air Station San Francisco launched a helicopter to check out reports of a sailboat that may be in trouble off Point Anyo Nuevo, 32 miles south of San Francisco. The helicopter overflew the vessel, whose crew indicated by hand signals that they were OK.
The Bay Area has treacherous waters with massive sand bars, shoals, shifting currents and strong tides, said Captain Sandi MacLeod, a senior sailing instructor for the Olympic Circle Sailing Club and a member of the national faculty for the U.S. Sailing Association. "Water, weather and geography all come together to create a beautiful, but deceptively dangerous locale, especially for the inexperienced or unwary sailor," MacLeod said.
On Monday, Feb. 16, into the early hours of Tuesday, Feb. 17, Northern California experienced a storm system that had dumped three to four inches of rain. On Wednesday, Feb. 18, the winds were from the southwest at 20-25 mph and the swells, driven by two days of storm winds, were from the southwest and running 10-12 feet. There was a strong ebb (low tide, out flowing) tidal current running faster than normal enhanced by the effects of the oncoming full moon. On top of the lunar effect on the tides and currents, the outgoing tidal current was running much stronger than usual because of an additional one to three feet of storm runoff.
The billions of gallons of water that flow in and out of San Francisco Bay and delta systems each day are funneled and compressed through the Golden Gate to create strong flood and ebb currents. The Golden Gate Channel is over 300 feet deep. As the silt-laden bay and river waters exit the Gate, they spread out, slow down and deposit their silt along either side of the channel. Over the ages, this constant dumping of silt has resulted in the formation of two huge sand bars and shoals only 24 feet in depth. In turn, large ocean swells roll up from the deeper water surrounding the bars into the much shallower water of these bars to form rough choppy waters and, when the swells are large, waves that suddenly loom up out of the water. These waves are higher, steeper and much closer together than the waves farther out over deeper water.
Due to an unusually mild winter, the waters off Ocean Beach were a relatively balmy 53 degrees on Feb. 18. At about 2 P.M., Jack Thrush and his wife were in the San Francisco City Zoo parking lot when they spotted the boat sailing about a quarter-mile off shore. Thrush, an experienced sailor, notified the Coast Guard via his cell phone that he thought the vessel was in extreme danger and would not make it past the South Bar. The Coast Guard called him back to request additional information on the vessel, the number of people he thought might be on board, etc. Thrush replied he saw only two and that the Coast Guard should check it right away.
Eric Reid and Amos were on deck while the senior Reid was belowdecks on the cell phone. Eric Reid was at the helm, but not being a strong swimmer and concerned about the increasingly rough waters, had put on a tether harness. (A tether harness is a lightweight body harness with a six- to seven-foot line attached to the vessel so that if the wearer falls overboard, he can pull himself back on board or be retrieved by crew mates.) Though all three men had personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board, none were wearing them.
Eric Reid noted the winds were swinging around to the northwest and increasing in intensity. He and Amos decided to drop the main sail and switch to the storm sail (a small sail made out of much heavier sail fabric). While the two men wrestled with the stubborn rigging, the boat continued its forward momentum, but drifted to starboard, edging closer to the shore.
Sailboat in Peril
The first indication Randy Reid had that there was a problem was when his boat broached. Broaching is when a vessel is slammed by a wave or winds, causing it to round up into the wind and heel over on its side so severely that it takes on water, but is usually able to right itself. Reid made his way up to the deck as his son regained the helm and was attempting to steer the boat, powered only by the jib, back out to deeper water. As he turned the vessel, it was broached a second time. As it righted itself, his son attempted to steer it out through the waves toward open water and directly into the face of a large wave, which pitch-poled it end over end, capsizing and demasting it.
Randy Reid and Amos were thrown into the water. They found themselves in a trough between large waves with a set of waves between them and their boat. Neither man could make it back to the overturned vessel, so Reid swam over and grabbed onto Amos. To compound the seriousness of the situation, Amos' jacket was zipped all the way up and Reid was gripping it so tightly he was accidentally strangling him.
San Francisco's 911 center is staffed primarily by civilian call takers and for the police department, civilian dispatchers. The much-smaller fire department portion of the center is staffed by a team of six firefighter dispatchers, two lieutenants and a paramedic captain as the radio supervisor. Paramedic Captain Dirk Van Waart, the supervisor at the time of the incident, said, "I first became aware of the problem at 14:23, when one of the call takers stated she had an overturned boat in the surf and wanted to know the dispatch code. I asked her, where is it? She talked to the 911 caller and answered back, it's in the ocean."
Van Waart and the call taker were able to calm the caller enough to get an approximate location, Ocean Beach off of Sloat Boulevard and the Great Highway. In the meantime, the 911 lines were lighting up with multiple callers, all on cell phones, calling in the incident.
"I knew we had something big by the sheer number of calls," Van Waart said. "The call takers were scrambling to input the information and pass it on to us. We were getting varying numbers on the amount of people in the water."
At 2:24 P.M., the initial dispatch went out to Battalion Chiefs 8 and 9, Truck 19 and the surf rescue unit at Station 18, Engine 34 (home of the department's cliff rescue unit), Rescue Squad 2, Rescue Captain (Paramedic Supervisor) 4 and Medic 18 for a capsized boat off Ocean Beach with 12 to 15 people in the water.
Station 18 is what is known as a "big house," with an engine, truck and ambulance. It is also the location of the department's surf rescue vehicle, a Ford F150 with sand tires for driving on the beach. It carries ropes, portable lighting, two surf rescue boards, boogie boards, a stokes basket, spare wet suits and fins, and eight Peterson buoys (the main flotation/lifesaving device used by SFFD's rescue swimmers, it is a piece of vinyl-covered foam three feet long, five inches wide and four inches deep with a metal clip on one end and an eye and eight-foot tether with a loop on the other end). Station 18 is also one of five stations where regular members have to be surf-rescue qualified to remain at the house.
Rescue Captain 2 Tim Fewell was at Station 18 administering a drill to the crew of Medic 18, Firefighter/Paramedic Jon Baxter and Firefighter/EMT Laverne Maliga, when the call was dispatched. Fewell hopped in his vehicle and followed the medics.
Station 18's surf rescue protocol is to put the engine out of service, and the designated rescue swimmers on the engine and truck change into wet suits and respond to the scene in the surf rescue vehicle and Truck 18. The truck serves as an aerial platform for spotting victims and tracking swimmers in the water as well as to provide extra equipment such as generators and lights. With this protocol in mind, Truck 18's boss, Lieutenant Glen Kojimoto, immediately contacted radio and had them add Truck 18 to the call. Firefighter/Paramedic Beth Goudreau and Firefighter/EMTs Elizabeth Leahy and Jason Woo changed into wet suits.
Engine 18 Captain Ed Liggins drove his rescue swimmers to the scene. Kojimoto, also a surf rescue-qualified swimmer, and Firefighter/EMT Mami Suzaki-Vidlon responded to the scene in Truck 18.
As the drama continued to unfold, Van Waart was directing his dispatching team to notify the U.S. Coast Guard Group San Francisco of the incident and request both the boat station and the air station send assets. After sending out an unusual occurrence page to notify SFFD chief officers and administration of the event, he contacted Paramedic Captain Pete Howes, the department's public information officer, to give him an update and get him responding to the scene. As per protocol, the National Park Service was also notified of the unfolding rescue as it was taking place on its property.
Medic 18, the first unit to arrive on scene, found 15 to 20 people frantically waving the responders over to the south end of the parking lot. "I jumped out the ambulance and commandeered a pair of binoculars from a bystander," Baxter said. "There were very heavy surf conditions and approximately 100-plus yards out I spotted a lot of debris and two of the three victims."
Baxter gave a quick size-up on the dispatch channel and repeated it on the tactical channel before returning the binoculars and stepping into the back of the ambulance to change into a wet suit. Fewell arrived on scene and was waved down to the beach by numerous frantic bystanders.
"I saw a number of people in the water up to their knees pulling debris out," Fewell said. "One lady had a yellow horseshoe-type flotation device around her waist. I ran up to her, thinking she might be one of the victims, but she told me she had fished it out of the water and was holding it for the authorities. I spotted all three people in the water and noted they were about 100 yards south of the parking lot, so I gave an updated location to radio so Truck 19 could position itself properly on the Great Highway to set up its aerial for observation...
"One of the first things I noted was that there wasn't a single surfer out there. This is a professional surfers' spot and they hold competitions out here every couple of years. But that day's conditions were so bad, nobody was out there"
At the same time, klaxons were sounding at the Coast Guard Air Station at San Francisco Airport. Lieutenant Commander Tammy Koermer was the pilot for the air station's ready aircraft. "I was at my desk when the alert came in," Koermer said. "Initially, we got a report for a sinking boat off of Ocean Beach with multiple people in the water. I had our flight mechanics dump about a half-hour's worth of fuel.
"In a helicopter you always have a tradeoff on how much you can lift. The less weight you have in fuel load, the more people you can haul out of the water. The response location was only 10 minutes' flying time from our station. However, less fuel also translates to less time you can stay on station once you get there."
Farther north, at Coast Guard Station Golden Gate, located in Horseshoe Cove at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the same alert was being sounded. Both 47-foot motor lifeboats were manned and responding within five minutes of the initial alert. The surf rescue unit and Truck 18 arrived on scene to discover Battalion Chief 8 Ron Trainor, Truck 19 and Engine 34 with the cliff rescue unit were already on scene. Unfortunately, none of these units had rescue swimmers on that day. There was no direct access from the parking lot down to the beach. The rescuers had to either scramble over boulders or take a narrow and circuitous path down to the beach.
Goudreau and Leahy, designated as the A team rescue swimmers, grabbed Peterson buoys and ran across the parking lot.
Sailors Spotted from Shore
"A woman informed me that she had marked a spot on the beach with a log to show where the boat was when it went down," Leahy said. "I jumped a low chain-link fence and ran down the beach. Halfway down, I heard Beth yell that she was right behind me. It was a great feeling. I knew we were good to go as a team.
"On the way down, I heard Lieutenant Kevin Hickey from T19 yelling my name and saying, "Can you see them? They're right there!" He was pointing to the two victims in the water. I spotted them and decided to enter the water a little south of them so the long-shore current would help push us to them."
Trainor directed Liggins to join Fewell on the beach and establish Beach Operations. He and Woo followed the two A team swimmers down the beach to Fewell at the water's edge. Baxter hopped out of the back of Medic 18, grabbed a Peterson buoy and ran down to join Liggins and Woo. Liggins and Woo trotted down to Fewell and were quickly joined by Baxter.
Liggins scanned the waves, then turned back to shore and noted that Truck 19 had its aerial up, but not extended. He radioed up for the company to extend the aerial to its full length and to make sure the observer was tethered in due to the high winds. Kojimoto had his driver position Truck 18 several hundred yards north of Truck 19 and once there, directed his three remaining crew members to put the aerial up and extend it up all the way.
"Captain Liggins directed Jason and me to enter the water to assist Beth and Elizabeth," Baxter said. "The water was crashing in on us. I lost Jason almost right away. We were having to penetrate these flat, hard wave fronts that were 10 to 15 feet high. No foam or anything to duck under, you had to just dive and drive through them. The sets were really tight, maybe three seconds apart. You had just enough time to come up and take one breath before diving into the next wave...It required a very forceful, high exertion swim to get out to the victims."
Woo said, "The waves were pretty nasty. They weren't coming straight on. They were angling in from both the left and right and were so big that even while duck diving under them, you were just getting pounded."
While the four rescue swimmers were battling their way out to the two Canadian men, who were between the fifth and sixth set of waves, the capsized sailboat and the third Canadian man disappeared beneath the waves.
The only rescue swimmers on scene were the six from Station 18. Rescue Squad 2 with its four swimmers was still enroute. Trainor special called Rescue Squad 1 from downtown to provide a pool of fresh swimmers if needed and also have a large enough swimming rapid intervention team if that was needed as well.
The first two rescue swimmers were making their way through the fifth set of breakers. Goudreau said, "Elizabeth swam past me just before we got to the victims. She went for the younger-looking of the two. Her guy was puking in the water and my guy was struggling to stay afloat. He was bobbing up and down in the water. As I grabbed him, he sank about two feet below the surface, but I had him by the shoulder, so I was able to go under with him and secure the Peterson buoy under both his arms.
"I looked over and Elizabeth had her patient hooked up to her Peterson as well. We were in this trough, a valley between these huge waves, and you couldn't see anything. Elizabeth's patient was saying something about his son was still on the boat. My guy was just limp, but awake...I asked Elizabeth if we should swim our victims out beyond the waves and wait to be picked up by the Coast Guard or swim them into shore. She said bring them in, so I turned, grabbed my guy by the Peterson I had attached to him and started in for shore."
Leahy said, "It was so surreal. I told my victim my name and that we were going to swim in backwards to keep our eyes on the waves. He was initially very cooperative and relaxed, but became increasingly agitated. At some point, he said his son was still tethered to the boat."
Fewell said, "We would get brief glimpses of our rescue swimmers. They had the two victims and seemed to be heading back to shore. The long-shore current was pulling them north. We were having to walk briskly up the beach to keep even with them. I suddenly realized that half of my only ambulance crew was in the water doing the rescue, so I requested the chief to special call three more ambulances, one for each victim and one to serve as a rehab or to take care of any of my people, if necessary. They appeared to be taking one heck of a beating out there." SFFD radio quickly dispatched Medics 32 and 29.
Back in the waves, Goudreau recalled, "My victim and I came up from under a wave and I looked back to see Elizabeth and her victim seemed to be stuck in a rip. She was swimming hard, but not making any progress. I turned to my guy and asked him if he was OK. He kept telling me he couldn't make it, but I just kept telling him to hold his breath each time a wave was about to roll over us. I had made it in through fifth and fourth set of waves by now. It seemed the closer to shore we got, the rougher the surf became.
"Jon Baxter caught up with me at about the third set of waves and asked if I needed any help with my guy. I told him no and suggested he check the wreckage for the third victim. He turned and dove through an oncoming wave. The waves were so big that when I found myself suddenly on my hands and knees on the bottom, I attempted to stand up to drag my guy in, only to be knocked down on my butt by the next wave."
Leahy said, "I was attempting to swim my guy in, but we seemed to be stuck in a rip or a mini-vortex. The dad was becoming increasingly anxious and rolled over and started flailing in the water in an attempt to help us break free. I kept asking him to roll back over onto his back so I could focus on getting us free. At some point he said, "Yeah, this isn't working," and rolled back over. We were eventually pushed out of the rip by the waves. I swam him in sort of riding the waves. Jason Woo caught up with us as we were nearing the shore and he helped me bring the father the rest of the way in."
Baxter swam past Leahy and Randy Reid out through increasingly debris-infested water. After swimming through the debris field and finding nothing, he turned back to shore to catch up with Goudreau to help her get Amos out of the surf and onto shore.
At Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, the alert helicopter was spooling up to launch.
"I was proud of our people," Koermer said. "We strive to launch within 30 minutes of receiving an alert, but we had the fuel off-loaded and were on our way in under 18 minutes. By then Group (USCG Group San Francisco) had an information update from SFFD for us that we were only looking for one victim in the water."
Fewell, Liggins and several firefighter/EMTs ran over to help the victims emerge from the water and get them up the beach. The responders had brought backboards with them, so both victims were laid directly down on the boards. While the medics were stripping the victims out of their multiple layers of wet clothing, Liggins quickly interviewed Randy Reid.
"The father stated the kid had lashed himself to the boat," Liggins said. "I quickly pinned down that Eric had not tied himself to the boat, but had tethered himself in. I got a description of Eric, what he was wearing, the color of his hair, height, weight, that kind of stuff." Liggins relayed the information to the command post and it was in turn relayed to the incoming Coast Guard assets. At about this time, both motor lifeboats from the Coast Guard Boat Station Golden Gate were rounding Lands End Point enroute to the scene. On the beach, Liggins radioed for the surf rescue rig to come onto the sand to facilitate patient transportation.
Fewell said, "We had both patients down on backboards. Firefighter/EMT Maliga had made sure that M18's ALS (advanced life support) equipment had been brought down to the scene. Beth and Jon each took a patient and began the process of stripping them out of their wet clothes and doing a rapid assessment. Fortunately, both guys were neurologically intact, and aside from being wet and cold, appeared to have gotten away with just bumps and bruises." After a quick reassessment, Medic 32 transported both patients to UC Medical Center.
The four rescue swimmers turned around, retrieved their Peterson buoys and swim fins and reformed back at water's edge ready to rescue or recover Eric Reid if he was spotted. On the way back down, Goudreau and Leahy encountered the woman who had marked the spot of the boat's capsizing with a log on the beach. She tagged along with the two rescue swimmers and described what she had seen.
Trainor noted the long-shore current was rapidly moving the debris field north along the beach. He directed Truck 19 to lower its aerial and reposition a half-mile up the beach. When the crew had completed relocating and getting set up, he had Truck 18 leapfrog farther up the beach beyond Truck 19 and set up again.
The members of Rescue Squad 2 arrived suited up and ready to go. They checked in with Trainor. Because the search area had spread out to almost a mile, the chief directed Rescue Squad's crew to a staging point at the water's edge approximately 300 yards south of the original rescue swimmers.
The Coast Guard helicopter had arrived and immediately initiated a search pattern above the sailboat's "point last seen" (PLS), and began working north, following the debris trail. The two Coast Guard motor lifeboats set up a search pattern just outside the waves, searching the waves and especially the many rip currents that could potentially drag Eric Reid out to sea.
Sailboat Torn to Pieces
"This boat didn't just sink," Liggins said. "When it went down, it was ground up along the bottom by the huge waves and broken up into pieces."
Onboard the Coast Guard helicopter was rescue swimmer Dennis Moyer. "We had a very quick launch and were on scene within three minutes of being airborne," he said. "The wind was buffeting as pretty hard...Instead of working at our normal search height of 30 feet above the waves, we were flying 50 feet up. It was an amazing view. There were multiple strong rips. At one point, I saw three of them running parallel to each other within a couple-hundred-yard stretch. The water was filled with flotsam and jetsam from the sunken vessel."
On shore, Firefighter/EMT Garret Lucier reported seeing a body in the water and directed the helicopter to the location. The aircrew lowered Moyer into the water. "They lowered me into the backside of a wave, which is our SOP," he said. "This puts the least amount of stress on the helicopter. I swam over and discovered a green jacket wrapped around a board. I pulled it off, detached myself from the hoist cable and swam the jacket into shore and gave it to the firefighters."
Moyer than swam back out to the debris and checked it out further. After ensuring there was nothing but debris in that section of water, Moyer reattached himself to the hoist cable and was raised back into the aircraft. In the meantime, the rescue swimmers on shore searched the jacket's pockets and found Eric Reid's wallet.
The search continued. The helicopter crew dropped a smoke float in the water to mark the major clump of debris in the water to make it easier for the wind-buffeted spotters on the tips of the fully extended aerials to track it. The crew also dropped a data-marker buoy to assist in tracking the sailboat's wreckage. Resembling an oversized lawn dart, a data marker buoy transmits a radio signal so currents and/or debris can be tracked by satellite.
Search efforts were suspended at sunset, just before 7 P.M., by the Coast Guard, which had taken over the role as lead agency for search operations. The following day, the two Canadian men flew home after being reassured that while search efforts would continue, there was little hope in finding Eric Reid alive.
"This call went well, in part, because we had a good team and followed our (surf rescue) SOPs, but there was also a good deal of luck involved," Liggins said. "We had an unusually strong group of swimmers on that day. We were also fortunate in that we had two battalion chiefs that understood surf rescue operations and know how to provide the overhead support"
Goudreau probably summed it up best: "This is what we do. This is what we are trained to do and that's exactly what we did."
(For their bravery in responding to this incident, Firefighter/Paramedic Jonathan Baxter, Firefighter/Paramedic Beth Goudreau, Firefighter/EMT Elizabeth Leahy and Firefighter/EMT Jason Woo were honored in the Firehouse Magazine Heroism & Community Service Awards program, featured in the April 2005 issue.)
San Francisco FD Surf Rescue Program
The San Francisco Fire Department provides fire, EMS and rescue services for the visitors and citizens of America's 14th-largest city plus Treasure Island and the San Francisco Airport. Located on the end of a peninsula and measuring seven by seven miles, 80% of its border, or 26 miles, is coastline.
The SFFD has 1,800 firefighters, paramedics and chief officers who staff 42 engine companies, 19 truck companies, 21 ALS ambulances, two heavy rescue companies, two fireboats, nine battalion chiefs, four rescue captains (paramedic supervisors), two division chiefs, radio, administration and support services, and the airport division. Additionally, a number of companies double-staff various specialty response units, including the hazardous materials unit, light unit, foam unit, surf rescue unit, cliff rescue unit, California Office of Emergency Services (OES) mutual aid unit and four wildland/brushfire units.
According to statistics maintained by SFFD's Special Operations Division, second only to hazmat callouts, surf and cliff rescues represent the department's most-requested special operation request. Surf rescue calls range from tourists and citizens falling and/or entering the water, surfing accidents, wind surfers becoming caught in strong currents and carried out to sea, ferry boat accidents, and whatever else an active and creative public can come up with.
Chief of the Department Joanne Hayes-White, an alumna of one of the first SFFD rescue swimmer programs, said, "The surf rescue program is a vital component of the San Francisco Fire Department. As an administrator for the San Francisco Fire Department, it is a program that I place great value on and want to ensure its continuance and growth. The City and County of San Francisco is unique in that it is surrounded by water on three sides, which underscores the need for a well-trained workforce and high-quality service that our surf rescue program ensures."
SFFD's program was founded in 1986 by now- retired SFFD Captain Bob Fennell, who served from 1966 to 1996. "My first 10 years in the department," he said, "I was assigned to Station 14, which was the department's cliff rescue unit. As a former lifeguard, I kept getting "volunteered" to go into water to recover drowning victims and for in-water body recoveries. Until then, water rescue was officially handled by the two rescue companies, who were dive rescue certified, but were both located across the city in the downtown areas.
"In 1986, after Lieutenant Skip Olsen (Engine 18) stripped down to his skivvies and dove into the waters off of Ocean Beach to rescue a tourist, I was asked to develop a surf rescue program by then Chief of the Department Ed Phipps. As a former lifeguard and member of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, I modeled much of our training off of those aspects of my lifeguard training that were applicable to us."
Fennell and then Lieutenant Russ Albano (now a retired captain) assembled a program that was a mix of portions of the USLA Lifeguard standards and the American Red Cross Senior Lifesaving Program and put on the first SFFD rescue swimmer class in 1987. Working closely with the USLA, the surf rescue swimmer program continued to evolve and the San Francisco program became the pilot program and template for the USLA's Aquatic Rescue Response Team program for non-lifeguards.
The SFFD also reached out to the two other agencies responsible for surf and cliff rescue in San Francisco, the National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, to work out communications, training, techniques, SOPs and unified command for such rescues.
Lieutenant Commander Tammy Koermer of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco was the command pilot on the first helicopter at the Feb. 18, 2004, Ocean Beach Surf Rescue.
"The professionalism and enthusiasm demonstrated by the San Francisco Fire Department surf rescue program and the National Park Service makes it a true pleasure to work these joint operations," Koermer said. "We're all working with each other for the success of the mission, not just trying to do our best in spite of one another."
Currently, five SFFD stations, 14, 16 (home of SFFD's two rescue water craft), 18 (home of the surf rescue unit), 23 and 34 (home of the cliff rescue unit), have as a mandatory requirement to make or stay at the house that each member has one year to successfully pass the week-long rescue swimmer program. Each member must also maintain that status by passing the recertifying qualification swim time and field exercise every two years. A member who fails the requalification swim must successfully complete the week-long rescue swimmer program in that same year or transfer out to a non-rescue swimmer station. Two years ago, this requirement was extended to apply to both rescue companies as well.
For more information on the U.S. Lifesaving Association's Aquatic Rescue Response Team Program, visit the website at www.usla.org. For more information on the San Francisco Fire Department's surf rescue program, contact Fire Marshal Paul Chin, SFFD Headquarters, 698 2nd St., San Francisco, CA 94107.
- Norm Rooker
Norm Rooker, a former firefighter/paramedic for the San Francisco Fire Department, is chief paramedic for Ouray County, CO, EMS and has been active in EMS since 1973. He is a member of Station 18 and was on duty the day of the rescue, but had been detailed downtown as Rescue Captain 1. He is also a freelance writer whose articles and columns have appeared in numerous fire, EMS and rescue journals.