Marine rescue needs funding or no coverage on Okanagan

Penticton fire chief Larry Watkinson delivered an impassioned presentation to the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

Marine rescue needs funding or no coverage on Okanagan

Without securing $80,000 in funding, the hope of the Penticton Fire Department rescuing anyone in distress on Okanagan Lake this summer will be sunk.

Fire chief Larry Watkinson delivered an impassioned presentation to the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Thursday during the first budget deliberations of 2017.

Read more: Drowning highlights need for safety on Penticton lakes

The Penticton Fire Department was one of four organization who presented to directors to access funds in the grant-in-aid program.

The department’s request of $80,000 was higher than the total amount of grants, $54,500, given out through the program last year.

“If we don’t get funding we won’t have a boat on Okanagan Lake next year,” Watkinson said, adding he was dedicated to raising the funds and was willing to do “boot drives and shave my head again if I have to.”

Watkinson explained until recently marine rescue, operated by the Penticton Fire Department, was using an older boat on both Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake. That boat suffered serious damages on Okanagan Lake during the last several years because of rough water and is no longer useable on that body of water.

Watkinson said the boat actually malfunctioned during a rescue earlier this summer when the hull came apart and the rescue attempt had to be abandoned.

A capital plan to replace the marine rescue equipment was started in 2013 spurred on by a service club pledging to give the organization $200,000 and the City of Penticton providing $40,000.

The idea was to buy two $20,000 personal watercraft rescue units to be used on Skaha Lake and on the Okanagan River Channel.

Read more: Marine rescue gets a big jump in Penticton

The remainder of the money would be used to buy a specially designed rescue watercraft for Okanagan Lake that would be moored at the Penticton Yacht Club.

Watkinson said by having the boat in the water already, it would reduce the call out time from 25 minutes to just a few minutes.

“The sooner we can get there the better. We know that it doesn’t take a half an hour to drown it takes just moments,” he said.

Unfortunately, Watkinson explained, the club was not able to meet that lofty goal and reduced the pledge to $50,000 and eventually withdrew from offering any money.

In 2016, the City of Penticton stepped in and upped its capital expenditures to the marine rescue program offering up $150,000 for new equipment.

Unfortunately that still left the fire department approximately $80,000 short.

Director Tom Siddon for Area D said he wasn’t sure he could support the request as the boat would be sitting in Okanagan Lake far away from his constituents. He brought up the idea of sub-regional funding.

Chair Karla Kozakavich noted that Naramata fire department bought a new boat just a few years ago for about $47,000.

She thought it would be difficult to ask her constituents to pay for a boat for Penticton.

Obviously, it’s going to be an interesting debate,” she said.

Other groups that asked for funding included the Community Foundation Okanagan Similkameen, $15,000; Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition, $30,000, Meadowlark Festival, $7.500; and Agur Lake Camp, $8,017.

Directors are expected to debate the funding applications at their upcoming budgets on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 in council chambers.