By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, February 10, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Jay Reiter]
HAMPTON -- The town may be getting out of the water rescue business if an article to retain the 29-foot fire/rescue boat doesn't float with voters at the March 14 election.
Critics argue no other town provides the service and it is costly to maintain, while proponents say the boat saves lives.
Fire Chief Hank Lipe told residents at Saturday's deliberative session that it doesn't make sense to sell the boat that is already paid for and costs the town very little to operate.
The 2006 operating budget for the fire/rescue boat is $2,285, and there is no need for additional training.
Lipe said the boat is needed because the nearest Coast Guard facility is more than eight miles away in New Castle.
Last year, the boat was called into action 24 times, including the incident on July 4 where two Massachusetts men drowned.
"Although we were not completely successful when two male swimmers drowned due to rip tides in the waters off Hampton Beach, the boat provided critical offshore backup for our crews, who were able to save 10 people from drowning that day, including a child," Lipe said.
Crews using the boat, however, did rescue five people from the water last year. In May, in Hampton River, the boat was used to rescue a stranded rower who was unable to row back to shore because of a storm.
In June, the boat was used to save two men clinging to the metal pilings of the Hampton River Bridge after the boat they were in capsized. The boat crew also responded on June 12 to two teenagers clinging to an abutment on the bridge and on July 1 to a boat collision at Hampton Harbor.
"Those rescues just confirm the necessity for the boat," Lipe said. "It's a vital asset to the town. It saves lives. We confirm that every year and this year is no different."
The town got into the water-rescue business in 1997 when it purchased its first rescue boat after someone nearly drowned at Hampton Beach.
At the time, Fire Chief William Sullivan said with the boat "firefighters wouldn't have to stand on the beach and feel helpless, as in the past, when water rescues were called for."
Along with the boat, came training.
Since 1997, the department has responded to more than 100 water calls, including 55 for rescues.