Moments after hearing an alarm, the Manasquan Fire Department boarded their rescue boat Marine 27 to save a distressed swimmer. NJTV News joined the team for one of their drills.
The boat operator inserted the coordinates where the swimmer was last seen. For this training exercise, a crew member jumped in the water and acted as the victim. The team onboard immediately responded by searching the water and then attaching a throw line to a life ring, tossed it to the victim and pulled him into safety. They call this rescue method an indirect pickup.
“Been doing it for 35, 40 years, and I think you’ll see every guy that joins the fire department — they just want to help their community and this is one of the best ways to serve their community,” said David Kircher, Manasquan Office of Emergency Management deputy coordinator.
About 30 Manasquan volunteer firefighters operate the rescue boat. Lifeguards and EMS from surrounding communities also volunteer by offering medical care and other assistance.
“They’re incredible,” said volunteer and Manasquan Mayor Edward Donovan. “The volunteer effort by the fire company in Manasquan is absolutely incredible. They put in hundreds of hours to train to become a fireman in the first place. They not only fight fires, but then they also man this fire rescue boat.”
The Manasquan Fire Department trains on the water weekly in the spring, summer and fall. They typically use child-sized mannequins. A crew member will place the doll in the water from another boat so the rescue team doesn’t know where it is. Since the water is constantly moving the swimmer, it makes the search job that much harder, which is why they constantly drill.
Marine 27 — which has been used for nearly 10 rescues and more than 70 responses, including other maritime emergencies since last summer — is primarily used after lifeguard hours when many beachgoers still swim.
“When the weather gets bad — and what we mean by ‘bad’ is high risk of rip currents, moderate rip currents risks — we actually put the boat out on patrol. We get crews together and we actually go out and we’re proactive after the lifeguards go off duty,” Kircher said.
In particularly hazardous weather conditions, Marine 27 can assist lifeguards on duty. During a drill, Manasquan lifeguards save a distressed swimmer in the Atlantic Ocean and got him to safety on the boat.
“On days where the swells are really big and lifeguards aren’t comfortable getting the victims back to shore that way, we can put them on this platform and get them through the inlet and back to safety much, much easier,” said Jay Price, a lifeguard and firefighter.
This former U.S. Coast Guard boat has also been outfitted with firefighting gear.
“We put a pump on the back of the boat with hard suction that will suck the water right out of the ocean. We’ll run that water up through that pump up to the front of the boat where we have a fire nozzle and the nozzle will spray the water,” said Manasquan Fire Department Chief Paul Samuel.
The team must complete four days of training and pass a written test. The men say it’s worth it. Kircher remembers a man they recently rescued from the ocean.
“He would not be here today if it wasn’t for this boat,” he said.
Which is why these firefighters say they’ll continue volunteering their time on the water.