I had completed my surf rescue qualifications only a week ago and had been carrying my gear on the engine along with the helmet, vest and fins. My name was on the board finally, assigned to Rescue Watercraft 1 under “Swimmer.”
It is what I had worked so hard to achieve. Weeks in the pool at the gym, 8 hour days of water training, swimming in the bay, the ocean…it finally all paid off.
On this particular day I had wandered over to the store on the corner for an apple and the radio came alive when I had just left.
“Engine 8 on Fireboat 1, Engine 16 on RWC1, Truck 16 on RWC2, Battalion 4, Medic 99 and RC2 respond for the bay rescue…”
The rest was a blur.
I thought dressing for a fire in a hurry was a challenge. I needed to go from full uniform to wetsuit, then gear up from there on the short drive to the docks. In the past, before I got my rescue cert I would drive this leg, then help prep the skis.
Today my heart is pounding, the wetsuit is on and so are my boots and gloves. The vest is bulky and makes it hard to sit in the seats, the fins are clipped to my belt that I’ve made sure isn’t looped through my seat belt.
The tourists are photographing the engine as we come to a stop outside the Marina Office and jump out. 3 minutes. Not bad.
We’re at a steady jog around the corner and down the walkway to the docks. At the end rests the rescue boat and the rescue water craft. They’re uncovered quickly and the operators fire them up and prepare to leave. We have our possible location of a windsurfer in distress out in the middle of the bay.
My mind swirls with all the training I received. It’s an ebb tide, meaning the water is leaving the bay, probably around 5 knots. It’s a chilly afternoon, mid 60s and the water will be in the 50s.
Hood and goggles in place I climb on the ski just as it’s throttling up to make the trip into the windy almost white capped bay.
Why anyone would windsurf in this weather is beyond me. Clinging to the operator and the hand holds, the rescue board attached behind us looks like a far better place to be but trying to change positions at full speed could prove dangerous, wet and fracking cold.
By the time we arrive at the large passenger ferry who spotted the wind surfer in distress we discover that callers out here are no different than on land.
Our “victim” is a kite surfer who is having trouble getting started back up with the ferry hovering in his wind.
We thank the ferry operator who begins to go back the the three hour tour of the bay and we offer to tow the surfer into a better wind vane. He climbs on the rescue board and I reach over to grab his board.
Any moderately experienced jet skier will know that you never stand and you especially never lean over when on the water. I knew that, but in the wind down of adrenaline and finding out I won’t be swimming 100 yards against the tide, I got comfortable…and forgetful.
I can only imagine the comments from the crew of the Coast Guard boat now arriving at our location, seeing a Fire Department Jet Ski with only a wind surfer holding onto the back and 2 knuckleheads in the water.
The kite surfer was back on his way and the wetsuit was doing a decent job, but we were cold.
Back at the docks RWC2 is wondering why my operator is all wet. The swimmer, sure, but the operator?
“What happened to you guys?” The officer asked, tucked warmly in his turnout coat.
Without missing a beat my operator thumbs in my direction and says, “Why don’t you ask the Little Dipper back there.”
Luckily that name stuck for only a few weeks. That is, of course, until the Legend of the Big Dipper.