Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson at the controls of the new Penticton Fire Rescue boat on Skaha LakeFriday afternoon. Firefighter Austin Conquergood is on one of the department’s two personal watercraft. Mark Brett/Western News Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson at the controls of the new Penticton Fire Rescue boat on Skaha Lake Friday afternoon. Firefighter Austin Conquergood is on one of the department’s two personal watercraft. Mark Brett/Western News

New life-saving tool for Penticton fire department

Penticton fire chief estimates marine rescue response time now will be reduced by 20 minutes

The Penticton Fire Department has a new tool to keep people safe on Okanagan Lake.

Painted fire engine red, the new 24-foot, aluminium hull, 660 horsepower twin jet engine marine rescue boat roared to life on Skaha Lake on Friday during a media ride.

It was just six months ago Fire Chief Larry Watkinson was concerned about the summer season and how their current rescue boat would operate in crucial life-saving situations where minutes can be the difference between life and death. The boat they were using served its purpose on Skaha Lake but didn’t meet the needs on Okanagan Lake.

“It is a 17-foot zodiac that basically couldn’t meet the capacity of the lake. We had the boat actually dismantle on one of our rescue calls,” said Watkinson. “It just didn’t have an enclosed cab, it couldn’t handle the lake, the waters it brought up and we had to move it from lake to lake so the delayed response to launch it and move it. Now we have the lakes both covered by rescue boats and we have very limited response time.”

Watkinson said on average they have 30 marine rescues per year (15 on each lake). He estimates the rescue response time now will be reduced by 20 minutes with the new boat serving Okanagan Lake and two personal watercraft, purchased in 2016 to serving Skaha Lake.

Major donations came through for the new rescue boat, raising $90,000 in less than 30 days. With $110,000 in capital, the donations pushed them to the $200,000 mark to ensure they would have an operational rescue boat in the water in time for the summer season.

Funds came from community members, with the largest contributors being the organizers of the ITU Multisport Championships ($30,000), Penticton Yacht Club and Marina ($15,000) and the Penticton Lakeside Resort ($10,000).

Related: Fire department blasts past fundraising goals

“We are very pleased with the community. They have certainly come to the table to raise the money to make sure that we have a boat that is able to serve our community with the lakes and the complexities that come with it. They stepped up., they made the boat happen and I give 100 per cent credit to the community of Penticton,” said Watkinson.