Elkader Fire Department gets temporary rescue boat launch site

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The Elkader Fire Department recently conducted a Turkey River rescue drill at the new temporary access landing behind the school.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

Over the previous two years, since obtaining a rescue boat from the government, the Elkader Fire Department (EFD) has conducted between four and five river rescues. But it was a recent Turkey River rescue conducted by the EFD that revealed some logistical troubles for the department’s rescue boat operations, namely the ability to put the rescue boat in the water in a timely manner under the constraints of the current launch access points. 

As fire chief Scott Marmann recounted, during the most recent rescue attempt, there were “several people stuck in a truck just south of Turkey River Park in the big willow tree across the river. They were in tubes…we put the boat in at Turkey River Park. When I backed the trailer down the ramp, the boat took on water in the back of the boat due to sharp drop off.” 

The 25-year veteran stated simply, “It just does not work.” 

According to mayor Josh Pope, part of the problem is that the Turkey River access “was not installed according to specifications from the county and needs to be corrected. Our fire department experienced this firsthand as it was exceedingly difficult to get the boat launched.” 

He continued, “We thought the Turkey River Park access would work, and it will when it is fixed, but it does not right now.”

In the aftermath of the rescue attempt almost gone awry, the EFD attached their need for an improved boat launch to city council member Bob Hendrickson’s idea to pursue an upstream access point, which would give canoers and kayakers the ability to exit the river prior to the dam. 

While Marmann stated the idea for a rescue boat launch had been discussed previously, it was not fully brought to city council until about a month ago. While the initial “idea of the boat accesses did not start as a project for the rescue boat...these conversations were the first we had on the subject.” 

However, the failure of the Turkey River Park access seemed to add a sense of urgency. During that meeting, Pope recalled, as “council member Hendrickson was trying to re-establish the take-out by the school and improve the put-in below the levee, they (EFD) added their input and made us aware of the current boat access.” 

At that meeting, Marmann spoke about the necessity of an improved boat launch, and how it would help “save time to launch [the] rescue boat for various rescues on the river.” 

A newer access point would also address the growing concern over increased boating during the summer due to COVID-19. It would further benefit boaters of all types, especially the inexperienced.

What the EFD was in need of, and what it asked for, were “boat launches on the north side of the dam and also on the south side of the dike on South Main Street so [they] could save time to launch [their] rescue boat for various rescues on the river.” 

Instead of receiving approval, according to Marmann, the topic was tabled by the city council “because of no funds.” 

Asked why it was tabled, Pope responded, “When it was tabled, council member Hendrickson was going to ask around for possible donations. We were going to check our budget for some funds.” 

In the time since it was tabled, the EFD, through anonymous sources, secured funding, while local business CJ Moyna & Sons Construction donated the equipment and material for the project. 

“We are very grateful for the generous donation from Moynas to get this project done,” Marmann said. He further commented, in regard to the project’s need, “It’s hard when time is of the essence when you have a rescue mission. Even though it didn’t cost a lot, you can’t put a price on anyone’s life that needs rescued or help.” 

Indeed, even Pope commented on the need for improved boat launch sites, not just for tourism, but also for “when someone does get into trouble, we need to make sure the rescue crew is able to access the river on either side of the dam easily and quickly to ensure a safe and quick rescue.” 

While the situation has improved, both access points remain temporary in nature, so unless money becomes available for more permanent structures—which Pope mentioned has been roughly estimated to cost $25,000—they will need to be “touched up after time,” which will also require funding. 

There is also the fact that the new, temporary access points are not perfect. At a recent river rescue drill, conducted at the new temporary access landing behind the school, the imperfections were laid bare. During the drill, the back of the rescue boat almost went under the water, and in what would normally require two or three people at most, took six people, struggling to get the boat into the water and keep it from submerging. 

The main take away from several members of the EFD was simply to say, “it’s better than what we had.” It’s a sentiment Marmann agreed with, stating, “The landing seems to work much better than what we are used to.” The temporary structures are usable, serviceable even, but when time is “of the essence during a rescue mission,” how much time is being lost by the lack of an adequate boat launch?

The logistical issue will linger, but it will do so under the watchful eye of a new fire chief, as Marmann has decided to retire in January 2021, citing the time commitment, the lost family time and the hours spent at his business during the day. The soon-to-be former fire chief remarked about the job, “I enjoy helping people and doing things for our community. The department has been like a second family to me…but it’s time for someone else to do the job.”

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