Watch Hill Fire Department
Watch Hill Fire Department
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WHFD Receives Certificate of Merit from the U.S. Coast Guard
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By Department Photographer Rebecca Schilke
October 23, 2018

On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, members of the Watch Hill Fire Department were given a Certificate of Merit from the United States Coast Guard for their quick response in two separate boat rescues this past summer. Chief Peacock accepted the award on behalf of the members and noted that their training, their experience, and their skills were what made these rescues possible.

Our appreciation is extended to Commander Boyd and Lieutenant Mazin from Sector Long Island Sound and Lieutenant MacDonald, Chief Giggi, and BM Phillips from Station New London for attending the ceremony and presenting the Certificate of Merit.

Our appreciation is also extended to the Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers Association for allowing us to conduct the ceremony at the Watch Hill Lighthouse.

Our appreciation is also extended to the members of the public and to our families and friends for attending the ceremony.

The descriptions of the rescues detailed in the award are below...

Osbrook Point Boat Accident & Rescue

On Monday, May 28th, 2018 at 20:57, the Watch Hill Fire Department was requested by the Westerly Fire Department to check the mouth of the Pawcatuck River after a 9-1-1 call was made to Groton Fire Alarm reporting a boat accident somewhere in the river. Within 4 minutes, 8 Watch Hill volunteer firefighters and EMTs responded with the department’s 25’ SAFE boat and 17’ Boston Whaler. Once underway and after a brief search using our FLIR camera technology, contact was made with a 35’ motor vessel that had struck a clump of rocks off Osbrook Point at the mouth of the Pawcatuck River. The boat was located within 20 minutes of the initial call. Two individuals were on board the vessel that was quickly taking on water and was very unstable in their location with a fast moving outgoing tide. Firefighters were able to swiftly rescue both occupants off the sinking boat within minutes of their arrival. Additionally, Watch Hill firefighters were able to secure the fuel on the sinking boat, preventing an environmental hazard, as well as obtain personal items from the vessel for the occupants. The vessel’s Captain and passenger were assessed by EMTs on board both of WHFD’s boats and were then transported to the fire department’s dock on Bay Street in Watch Hill. Due to the quick moving current and positioning of the sinking vessel, both Watch Hill boats were vital in the success of the rescue mission and all parties and firefighters returned without any injuries. They were also able to communicate all needed information to USCG Station New London and handle the incident for them so that they could continue to work a separate incident in the Connecticut River. This was a fine example of our strong working relationship with USCG Station New London and proof of the mutual trust shared between the agencies.

Watch Hill Fire Deputy Chief Jason Simmons had command of the incident with Lieutenant Christopher Koretski, Lieutenant Dennis Mello, Lieutenant Hannah Schilke, Firefighter Jack Spratt, Firefighter Bill Davis, Firefighter Ray Elterich, Firefighter Rachel Schilke, and Firefighter Rees Harold staffing Marine 100 and Marine 101.

Overturned Vessel off Sandy Point & Rescue

On Friday July 13th, 2018 at 08:01, the Watch Hill Fire Department was requested by Coast Guard Station New London to respond to a report of an overturned vessel with 3 people in the water somewhere off Sandy Point in Stonington, CT. Within 3 minutes of the dispatch, 3 Watch Hill firefighters were staffing the department’s 25’ SAFE boat and were underway in extremely poor visibility conditions with dense fog banking down the entire area. Once underway, radio contact was made with other marine assets responding including the Mystic Fire Department, Stonington Police Department, Groton Long Point Fire Department, Seatow, and USCG New London to establish communications and develop a plan. Despite being the last agency notified, the firefighters from the WHFD were able to locate the overturned vessel within 18 minutes of the response. A set and drift was obtained and relayed to the other responding assets. An expanding square search was then begun by WHFD for the 3 missing individuals. Within 9 minutes of the commence of the search pattern, a Coast Guard asset advised they had located the 3 victims floating within our search grid, approximately 3 miles from where the vessel capsized due to a strong flood tide. While the USCG boat transported the victims to awaiting EMS units in Stonington Harbor, WHFD returned to the capsized boat’s location and provided vital information to the USCG for broadcasts to mariners and their needed documentation. Strong communications were pivotal to this rescue effort. A valiant team effort by all agencies involved as well as other mariners in the area made for a positive outcome and for valuable lessons learned for responses in the future. The Joint Search and Rescue Training provided by USCG New London to our firefighters last year was vital to the interoperability of the agencies and the ultimate success of this mission.

Watch Hill Fire Chief Robert Peacock had command of the incident with Lieutenant Christopher Koretski, Firefighter Jack Spratt, and Firefighter Keith Maine staffing Marine 101.

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