Penticton fire chief Larry Watkinson (centre) is surrounded by firefighters and representatives of the Yacht Club: Norm Bornau, director (in sweater); Darren Vipond, vice commodore; Mark Tougas, secretary; Commodore Terry Olfert and past commodore Bruce Merit (to the right of Watkinson). Submitted photo

Fire department campaign goes over the top

There wasn’t much time for the fundraising campaign, but thanks to a pair of major, last-minute donations from two local organizations Penticton Fire Rescue’s effort to raise $50,000 for a marine rescue boat has gone over the top.

On Wednesday the organizers of the ITU Multisport Championships, which take place in Penticton this summer chipped in $30,000 for the cause, following a $15,000 contribution from the Penticton Yacht Club and Marina earlier this week.

“It’s absolutely fantastic, the community has raised over $83,000 in less than 30 days,” said Fire Chief Larry Watkinson. “I now have a commitment from the manufacturer on the May long weekend there’ll be an operational rescue boat on the water.

“The Penticton marine rescue services sees multiple marine rescues and emergencies every year on both Skaha and Okanagan Lake and this is going to reduce our response times.”

According to Michael Brown of Challenge Penticton, race director for ITU, the decision to donate was an easy one.

“It really didn’t take much thought at all,” said Brown. “We saw the need for the last $30,000 in funding that the fire department needed and we see it as a real opportunity to give back to the community to be sure that not only our athletes are safe, but anyone visiting over the summer as well.

“We understand the commitment Penticton has made to our event and so we thought it was important to give back a little bit too.”

The Yacht Club turned over a cheque for $15,000, putting the campaign over their $50,000 goal and ensuring the new boat will be on the lake in time for the busy summer season.

Terry Olfert, commodore of the Yacht Club, said that once they heard about the campaign, they began talking about how the club could help.

“Their boat was suffering. They were hard at working on getting this boat,” said Olfert, adding that the club asked Watkinson to make a presentation at their AGM on Jan. 25.

“We had 50-some people there. They unanimously said yes, let’s do it,” said Olfert. “We want to support them, plus we are giving them one-year free moorage as well.”

The City of Penticton earmarked $150,000 for the new boat, but after the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen turned down a request for additional funding, the fire department turned to the community to raise another $50,000 to get the boat needed for rescue work on Okanagan Lake.

More: Fire department wants to update rescue boat

Olfert said the boat the fire department has picked out is “phenomenal,” adding that Okanagan Lake, where the boat will be based, can get rough.

“When the winds pick up, it’s huge. We get people caught out there all the time. This boat is designed to take that kind of stuff,” said Olfert. “This boat is designed to take that. It’s designed to be a rescue boat, plus it’s got all the firefighting capabilities.”

Watkinson said he is still finalizing other donations and with those added in, the department will be able to order some accessories they eliminated from their first request.

The planned boat is an aluminium hull 24-footer and twin jet engines to deal with the extreme conditions of Okanagan Lake.

“It’s properly designed for the complexities of this lake. If a houseboat is going up against rocks, we will have the ability and power to manipulate that and help them get away from the situation,” said Watkinson, adding that the jet engine design means no props in the water, making it safer and more manoeuvrable.

“It will have no draft, so it can go in 12 inches of water,” he said.

Olfert was impressed with the enthusiastic support from the club members. He said some of the older club members, with decades of boating experience, were the first to show their support.

“Their hands went up so fast. They have seen things go wrong on the water. You could just tell they were excited about the fact there is a boat out there designed to save them if there is an issue. The older you get, the harder it is for us to operate our vessels,” said Olfert.

Watkinson, a member of the Yacht Club himself, said he has been involved in situations out on the lake assisting other boaters.

“If you are in a condition where you are having to come in, you don’t have time to stop and help others, because you could end up in the same condition,” said Watkinson. “And that is when we are going out.”

The Yacht Club donation joins many other contributions from local businesses and community members including $10,000 from the Lakeside Resort, $5,000 from Poplar Grove Winery, $2,000 from the Penticton Foundry and $1,500 each from Underwriters Insurance and Greenwood Forest Products.

A fundraiser scheduled for the Penticton branch of the Royal Canadian Legion on Feb. 11 is still going ahead as planned with money going towards equipment for the boat.

According to Watkinson one of the individual donors is a former tug boat operator who was the lone survivor in an accident.

“He (boat operator) certainly sees the value in bringing marine rescue to our community,” said Watkinson.

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