911 Operators and Dispatchers, A Marine Ride a Long
Our training for that month was a scheduled ride-a-long with our police department's marine unit..
I arrived in dispatch at 0700 and my co-worker and I drove to the city dock together. We met our Marine Officer and he introduced us to the Assistant Dock Master.
Many boats were docked, there was a place to fuel, a shop for concessions and bait, restrooms and a park bench if you needed to sit for a bit.
It was a gorgeous, hardly a cloud in the sky, but hot day in June.
Not so Fun
"I'm really not looking forward to this," my co-worker had said. But I was like a kid in a candy store. How many people get to ride on a police boat!
My co-worker was not a fan of the heat, and being in the hot sun would probably give her a headache, as she was prone to migraines. I empathized with her, but still could hardly contain my excitement. I had to remind myself that I was an adult and not 4 years old.
A Beautiful Day to be on the WaterClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Back Bay
We gently pulled away from the dock and headed out into the bay. Our officer showed us where the boat clubs were and told us about the inexperienced employees at one of them.
He trolled slowly through what became almost as narrow as a canal, and he showed us the back of some of our housing developments. This was a whole new way to gain some zone familiarization!
Just as we were about to get close to the open water again, we came across a sail boat that was moored. A women had climbed up to the mast and was working on the sail. Our officer tethered up to them and asked if everything was okay. He called out his location over the radio and the dispatcher recorded the call.
They explained that they were on there way to the southern part of the state when their sail tore. They were going to fix it and spend the day here and be on their way again tomorrow.
He let them know to call our department if they needed anything and as he cleared the call over the radio, I thought "Well that was easy enough."
Have you ever been pulled over while on a boat?
Obey the Rules of the Road or uh Water
Citation while Boating?
We were approaching a Y type of channel just as you're coming out into the Gulf that gets a lot of people confused. It was as if he had planned it because right then a boat cut us off and went the wrong way through one of the channels.
He "lit them up" and pulled them over. Our officer got as close as possible to the boaters and handed them our rope.
With a surprised look on his face, the elderly gentleman took the rope and wrapped it around the cleat and handed it back to our officer as instructed.
It wasn't until we were tethered and our Officer had the vessel hull registration number that he called the traffic stop over the radio. Completely different than our road officers who sometimes call out a traffic stop and air the tag before they've come to a complete stop.
When he explained to the boater what he had done wrong, the man began to get incredulous. His wife looked chagrined as he said, "This isn't my first rodeo you know."
As the man tried to argue our Officer eventually told the man, "I really don't want to write you a ticket." Oh boy the man's attitude flipped faster than a hot pancake, and I was trying not to giggle.
We cleared the call over the air with "warning" as the disposition.
Safety and Respect
As we continued on, we picked up speed. It was important not to kick up a wake while in certain marked areas. The wakes can causes boats close to shore or that are docked to start rocking, which can result in damage to the boats and injuries to people.
Our officer said It just doesn't enter the minds of boaters that they could actually get a ticket while boating. He said he uses the line he used before about not wanting to write a ticket, and then most people get it.
As a dispatcher I'm always surprised when a Marine Officer closes a call with a citation, and I asked him what would make him write someone on the water a ticket. He said there are boaters he's come to recognize, that come out regularly and can be repeat offenders. He also writes them up if someone is doing something blatantly wrong. But most people aren't looking to cause trouble while boating, they just want to have fun.
A Real Call
After showing us some of the other areas, both in the Gulf and the back bays, our ride was about to come to an end as we headed back to the city dock. I could tell my co-worker was relieved.
Only a few minutes away from the dock, the dispatcher came over the radio advising us of a marine emergency.
"Paddle boat sinking, two people on board"
Our Officer flipped on the lights and sirens, turned and thrust the throttle down.
"Whoa! We're going code on the boat in the water!" In that moment I really was 4 years old.
As we braced ourselves for the ride I turned to my co-worker and said, "We are the luckiest people in the world right now!"
From the look on her face she obviously didn't think so.
Marine RescueClick thumbnail to view full-size
As we were pulling up to the scene we could see a kayak rowing away from the paddle boat and towards the shore. As we pulled up close to the listing paddle boat, two employees from the resort were in the water, in full uniform, polo shirts with pin on name tags and khaki shorts. The female employee immediately sighed and said, "Thank you!"
We helped them onto the boat and tethered the listing paddle boat to the patrol boat. Our officer advised the dispatcher that we were on scene and to cancel any other incoming units.
Drenched and relieved, they told us that when they heard from other guests what was happening they rowed a kayak out to them. The resort guests that were on the sinking paddle boats were scared out of there minds.
The employees tried to shift them gently into the kayak, but they pretty much jumped in. They were surprised the kayak didn't dump and said the two women rowed that kayak back to shore faster than they've ever seen anyone row. The employees had been treading water with the paddle boat, waiting for help to get there.
Back at Shore
We towed the paddle boat as close to shore as possible. Once inland, the employees were able to get off the boat in to chest deep water. They untied the paddle boat to drag to shore while guests who were swimming made comments such as, "That's going above and beyond the call of duty!, " and "Is that in your job description?"
Above and Beyond
For the 911 Operators and Dispatchers out there
Have you ever been on a marine ride-a-long?
I was grinning from ear to ear knowing that I was probably the only ride-a-long disaptcher to get a marine emergency. As I was savoring this experience I looked at my co-worker and could see she was relieved to be going back.
We were going at a good pace, and our Officer was watching the water ahead of him, when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a tuber behind a boat go down.
My co-worker looked at me sideways as I pointed it out to our Officer. We pulled up closer and asked what was wrong. They had a tube that was losing air but they were okay.
My co-worker looked relieved and we once again headed back.
I learned so much that day. I'd been on the water plenty of times, but now I saw it all through the eyes of our Officer. I could appreciate how important it is to have people like him doing such a great job.
I can't say enough about these kind of ride-a-longs. They help us dispatchers to get a clear idea of how responders see and experience what we hear over the radio.
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