- By Emily Small –
Town Board members and Washington Island Fire Department discussed water rescues and the perceived need for an upgraded rescue boat at a special town board meeting May 26.
Water rescues have increased sharply in the last few years and in fall of 2020, WIFD chief Pete Nehlsen requested the town purchase a $165,000 SAFE boat to replace the vessel they are currently using, which is unsafe in anything but calm, shallow water, according to the chief.
The proposed purchase was brought to the annual town meeting in April and the electorate voted against a tax levy to fund the purchase of the SAFE boat during that meeting.
Chief Nehlsen stated in a subsequent board meeting the WIFD would get out of water rescue entirely if they are expected to continue using the boat they have, citing safety concerns, both for his crew and water rescue victims.
Board chairman Hans Lux prefaced the discussion by saying “inaction is not an option.” He reported the Coast Guard will no longer be available as water rescue backup; they are only on the Island on weekends this season and their coverage area is just too large to count on them.
Lux also reported the county sheriff’s department is not equipped to respond to water rescue and they are not an option. “We are essentially on our own.”
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