2015-07-11 / Top News

Team Shows Off ‘Mackinac Marine Rescue’ Boat

By Stephanie Fortino


Mackinac Marine Rescue Team members (from left) Ken Hardy, Sam Barnwell, Dominic Redman, and Dan Wightman (not pictured) showcased the new emergency vessel to Mackinac County Commissioners Tuesday, July 7. The new boat, which was primarily funded through a 2014 Port Security Grant, was moored at the Shepler’s Ferry floating docks in St. Ignace for the tours. Mackinac Marine Rescue Team members (from left) Ken Hardy, Sam Barnwell, Dominic Redman, and Dan Wightman (not pictured) showcased the new emergency vessel to Mackinac County Commissioners Tuesday, July 7. The new boat, which was primarily funded through a 2014 Port Security Grant, was moored at the Shepler’s Ferry floating docks in St. Ignace for the tours. With its striking aluminum cabin, bright red bumper, and blue decals that read “Mackinac Marine Rescue,” the City of Mackinac Island’s new emergency boat has already been used this summer to transport medical patients and assist in other emergency calls. The boat’s utility as an emergency vessel will help aide all of Mackinac County in medical, fire, and other emergency situations, officials say.

The emergency boat arrived May 27 and volunteers have been training on the water to prepare for emergencies.

The boat is 31 feet long and features two 300-horsepower, four-stroke engines. A towing bar is mounted above them to keep towing lines out of the propellers. The engines can turn 6,200 revolutions per minute. Its hull is made of aluminum, so it cannot run in ice, but it can be operated in seas up to eight feet with sustained winds up to 30 miles per hour.


Mackinac County officials were treated to a tour and quick ride aboard the new rescue vessel Tuesday, July 7. Pictured (from left) are county Equalization Director Jim Fenlon, Commissioner Larry Leveille, Commission Chairman Jim Hill, Craig Davidson of Cloverland Electric Cooperative, and Commissioners Calvin McPhee, Diane Patrick, and David Sudol. The boat’s heated cabin features two benches that can accommodate sitting passengers or medical patients on backboards or stokes baskets. Mackinac County officials were treated to a tour and quick ride aboard the new rescue vessel Tuesday, July 7. Pictured (from left) are county Equalization Director Jim Fenlon, Commissioner Larry Leveille, Commission Chairman Jim Hill, Craig Davidson of Cloverland Electric Cooperative, and Commissioners Calvin McPhee, Diane Patrick, and David Sudol. The boat’s heated cabin features two benches that can accommodate sitting passengers or medical patients on backboards or stokes baskets. A remotely controlled fire pump that can disburse 500 gallons of water per minute is on the bow. The water is drawn from the lake and can be shot about 140 feet.


Nearing the shore at St. Ignace Tuesday, July 7, Sam Barnwell (from right) sits at the helm as crewmember Dominic Redman stands in the doorway near the bow. Sophisticated electrical equipment, including radar, touch screens, and a joystick (to the left) that controls a powerful firehouse, is seen on the boat’s control panels. Nearing the shore at St. Ignace Tuesday, July 7, Sam Barnwell (from right) sits at the helm as crewmember Dominic Redman stands in the doorway near the bow. Sophisticated electrical equipment, including radar, touch screens, and a joystick (to the left) that controls a powerful firehouse, is seen on the boat’s control panels. The cabin is heated by an onboard diesel heater and can fit up to two patients on backboards or baskets. It has roomy padded benches.

Onboard are radar, forwardlooking thermal imaging cameras, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) that is used to track marine traffic. The coxswain and navigator sit on special seats with shocks that allow them movement up to nine inches, and they use touch screens to navigate and monitor the boat.

Built by Safe Boats International of Bremerton, Washington, the boat cost $496,850. A Port Security grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency covers $372,650 of the project, and Mackinac County contributed

$60,000. The City of Mackinac Island is giving $64,200 cash and in-kind donations, like equipment and time. Enbridge Energy, which manages the pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac, donated $10,000 for expenses. The Mackinac Island Community Foundation awarded the program a $4,000 grant that will cover most of the cost of new dry suits that will arrive soon.

Mackinac Island assistant fire chief Sam Barnwell and other members of the crew gave county commissioners a tour of the vessel Tuesday evening, July 7, at Shepler’s floating docks and went for a short ride in the Mackinac Island harbor.

“It’s fabulous,” said Commission Chairman Jim Hill. “I think it’s money well spent. The workmanship is fantastic. Half of it is getting a crew together, and Sam’s doing a wonderful job, so I’m just tickled.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources donated a slip at Mackinac Island State Harbor, the Island’s public marina, to house the boat for the summer. Mackinac State Historic Parks has donated storage space above the Visitors Center for the team to store equipment used on missions, which will reduce response time.

The boat has attracted quite a lot of attention since it arrived.

“It’s nonstop on the Island dock, people stopping down to look at the boat,” Mr. Barnwell told the county commissioners.

The boat’s bow is powered by hydraulics and can be dropped up and down to land on a beach. The vessel draws about three feet of water, meaning if the bow is on the beach, there needs to be about three feet of water at the stern. So far, the crew has come ashore at beaches at Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and Round Island, and plans are in the works to land at St. Helena Island and some of the Les Cheneaux islands soon.

There may be room enough on the bow to hold a four-wheeler, which the Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office may test soon.

The marine rescue team volunteer their time to train, but get paid by the City of Mackinac Island when on missions. The wages are determined by the city’s annual salaries ordinance. Coxswains and engineers will earn $20.78 per hour for emergency runs and deckhands will earn $11.55 an hour.

Depending on water conditions, it takes the emergency boat between 10 to 15 minutes to travel from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace.

An average medical transport burns about 20 gallons of gas, Mr. Barnwell estimated. Cruising speed of the boat is about 30 knots, and top speed is 41 knots. The boat burns about 30 gallons of gas per hour when the boat is cruising, but about 60 gallons of fuel an hour at top speed. The boat’s gas tank can hold 300 gallons of fuel, meaning, at it’s most efficient cruising, the boat can make it about 270 nautical miles.

A portion of the Port Security Grant will cover some of the fuel that is burned for training purposes. The City of Mackinac Island can also purchase fuel for training and will cover the fuel costs for operations. So far, the team has spent about $4,000 on fuel for training exercises and operations.

Currently the Mackinac Marine Rescue Team’s budget is included in the Fire Department, but next fiscal year, the division will have its own separate budget, Mr. Barnwell said. The vessel’s computer system meticulously logs how much fuel is injected into the motors to a tenth of gallon, Mr. Barnwell explained, and the data collected will be used to estimate how much money will be spent on fuel for training, medical evacuations, search and rescue missions, and other transports.

“As much as we don’t have a projection right now,” Mr. Barnwell told the Town Crier, “we’re building and saving the data right now,” which will be used to estimate budgets in the future.

The team is also working to establish how much it will cost for ongoing maintenance and winter layup, and Mr. Barnwell is negotiating with a mechanic for service estimates. There are suggested maintenance standards for the vessel’s motors every 100 or 300 hours, including oil changes, propeller changes, and other work. After it’s winterized, the boat will likely be stored in an Arnold Transit Company Warehouse in St. Ignace, and the warehouse space will be donated to the city.

No license is required for the boat to operate, Mr. Barnwell said, because the vessel is not for hire. Crewmembers are trained using a modified version of the United States Coast Guard Operations manual. The Mackinac Marine Rescue training materials include skill sheets that list the requirements for each position aboard the boat, including deckhand, engineer or navigator, and coxswain.

Mr. Barnwell is currently the only member of the marine rescue team who is a certified coxswain, although team members Dan Wightman and Ken Hardy have nearly reached the same level. Mr. Barnwell also has his 10-ton captain’s license, but the license is not required to operate the vessel.

Coast Guard Station St. Ignace has been instrumental in helping the team train and prepare, said Mr. Barnwell, who has worked closely with U.S. Coast Guard Station St. Ignace Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Michael Beatty over the past several months. The Coast Guard often trains with the vessel out on the water.

“It gives them the opportunity to train with another boat and gives us ability to learn to operate at a similar level,” Mr. Barnwell said. “It’s really the Coast Guard that’s coming together to get us trained to operate the boat in a safe and efficient manner.”

Since the emergency boat arrived this spring May 27, the marine rescue response team has performed three medical evacuations off Mackinac Island, including an injured girl, a man with chest pain, and an unconscious man who was involved in bicycle accident. The team also helped the Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office search for missing kayakers off US-2 on Brevort River. The boat also transported a stranded Cloverland Electric Cooperative lineman who was on the Island to assist with a power outage.

The team has also met with the Bois Blanc Fire Department to discuss how the vessel might provide emergency assistance, and plans are in place to meet with the Clark Township Fire Department later this month.

“We’re learning some of the unique needs as we’re going around talking” to communities, Mr. Barnwell told the county commissioners July 7.

The team will be on hand during the Les Cheneaux Antique Wooden Boat Show in early August, the Labor Day Bridge Walk in September, and the widespread Enbridge training exercise planned for September.

“We want to do it,” Mr. Barnwell said of these events, “because there will be a lot of people involved.”

No weapons or explosives other than safety flares are stored on the vessel. Two long rifle mounts in the cabin may be used in the event that police officers are aboard.

“If we have police officers on board,” Mr. Barnwell said, “they very often carry their weapons. We can transport law enforcement officers, but the boat operators are unarmed.”

The boat also has chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) detective equipment aboard, which can be used for homeland security missions and counterterrorism efforts.

The boat is needed, Sheriff Strait, Mr. Kasper, and others say, because it adds to the arsenal defending against emergencies, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. The Port Security Grant is one of numerous grants that have been awarded to Mackinac County agencies in the past decade or so.

“That’s part of the overall emergency services plan,” Sheriff Strait said of the new boat this spring. “We don’t work in isolation. Mike [Kasper] doesn’t work on emergency management stuff, I don’t work on law enforcement stuff, and Sam Barnwell over on the Island doesn’t work on fire stuff. We all work collaboratively so that we can best utilize the knowledge base that we have here in the county to write these grants so that we can get the best preparedness plans we can.”

While the Coast Guard is unaffiliated with the new emergency boat, Senior Chief Michael Beatty of the Coast Guard in St. Ignace told the Town Crier this spring, he has agreed that the boat will help increase safety on the water throughout the Straits area as a “force multiplier.”

“Just to have an additional resource,” Senior Chief Beatty said, “it’s just more we can bring to the fight in our area.”

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