Texas FD, Coast Guard Join Forces

May 21--SOUTH PADRE ISLAND -- Discussing the relationship between the South Padre Island Fire Department and the Island's Coast Guard station, Fire Chief Burney Baskett remarked, "We rely on them and they rely on us."

In an effort to work more closely together, the Island's fire department and the Coast Guard Station at South Padre Island announced that the two agencies have begun a "work exchange" program, introducing each other to the day-to-day responsibilities of each department. The ongoing project is essential, Baskett said, because each agency needs the other's

assistance in many of the emergency situations that pop up on the Island.

Baskett expected the work exchange program to continue for the next several months.

The fire department, Baskett said, has no boats and only one Jet Ski to respond to emergency situations out in the bay or in the Gulf. "Basically anything that happens in the water, we have to coordinate with them," Baskett said.

In the past, his department has used Coast Guard boats to respond to missing persons and injury reports, Baskett said.

Baskett also recalled the days following Hurricane Dolly, when the fire department used Coast Guard boats to assess

damage along the coast and in the bay.

During the work exchange program, fire department and Coast Guard personnel will tour each other's stations, meeting with department officials and getting a feel for each department's daily routine. The fire department has been sending someone over to the Coast Guard station almost every day, Baskett said, riding along and observing the Coast Guard in action.

In return, the Coast Guard has been periodically sending over officers to learn about life at the fire station.

Petty Officer First Class Jason Chapa with the Island's Coast Guard station said, "I know our guys have been out there to see what they're doing and learning how they respond to calls."

Coast Guard officers have regularly been taking fire personnel out on their patrols, giving them a feel for what Coast Guard does and how they respond to calls. "We let them live the life that every one of our guys would on the water," Chapa said.

"We explain our procedures to them, and I know they're doing the same for us.

"I think us working together definitely helps the community out a little bit more."

Chapa said that more than anything, his agency relies on the Island's fire personnel for any medical emergencies that happen in the water, whether it be an injured or sick boater or a drowning. "That's probably the biggest thing, everybody they send out here is more than qualified to respond to any medical situation," he said.

Anything dealing with a medical emergency, Chapa said, has to be a "joint effort" with the fire department.

The biggest lesson of the exchange so far, Baskett said, has been learning the limitations of each department. "You more want them to understand what you can't do than what you can," he said. "It gives them an idea of what our capabilities are and we get an idea of what their capabilities are."

Baskett identified three gaps where Coast Guard and fire department efforts could still fall short during an emergency situation. The fire department has already filed for a grant to equip and train a small dive team to act as first responders during a search or rescue emergency, Baskett said. As of now, the closest deployable dive team comes from Brownsville, he said.

Baskett also said neither his department nor the Coast Guard have the ability to quickly respond to shallow-water emergencies out in the Gulf, saying that the Coast Guard boats generally have to stay 200-to-300 yards off the shore. He also said the Coast Guard station does not have any boats equipped to put out boat fires, saying, "If we do have a boat

fire out in the bay or Gulf, it's gonna burn to the water line the way things are now."