BONNERS FERRY — In the Jan. 1 BNSF train derailment, where the front locomotive ended up in the Kootenai River with the conductor and engineer initially trapped inside, the Boundary County Sheriff’s Marine Program played an important part, navigating treacherous waters at night with the Sheriff’s boat to reach the stranded BNSF employees and transfer them to safety.
Although the primary purpose of the Marine Program is to promote boater safety, it also plays an important role in rescues on the waterways. One of the key resources for the program has been the Sheriff’s boat — and now there will be two.
The Boundary County Sheriff’s Office received a 1995 Alamar 19-foot patrol/rescue boat and trailer donated to them by Elmore County at no cost.
“This additional boat will come in handy if the jet boat is down for maintenance, and for use by the Search and Dive Rescue Team,” said Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer.
Kramer said that he reached out to Elmore County when he noticed that they had taken their Sheriff’s boat for auction in Twin Falls. Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead, the Elmore Commissioners, and Laytreda Schultz with Elmore County Waterways, agreed to give the boat to Boundary County at no cost.
“The boat is in great condition and will be another resource for safety and patrols in Boundary County,” said Kramer. “We are very thankful for the generous donation from Elmore County.”
Boundary County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Steve Ussher drove to Mountain Home to bring the boat to its new home in Boundary County.
“This vessel means we will have additional resources to be able to deploy on the river or any body of water in the event of a water emergency,” said Boundary Search and Dive Rescue Team (BSDRT) Commander, Tony Jeppesen. “The vessel will be useful for dive activities, surface water searches, and moving personnel and equipment to areas on the river not accessible by vehicle.”
Currently most of the Sheriff’s deputies have been trained for working on the river. In addition, some of the Sheriff’s reserve deputies bring considerable experience as well. Reserve Deputy Scott Browne is a PADI Dive Instructor and has many hours boat experience, and Reserve Deputy Frank Crabtree was a boat captain with the U.S. Coast Guard for years, as well as owning and operating numerous boats in Alaska.
“Having the experience that they bring as volunteers really is an asset to our Marine Program,” said Kramer.
The new boat has a platform on the back which will make it useful for divers, but there are still improvements that need to be made before it is ready to take to the water, which Kramer predicts will be early spring.
“We are working with County Waterways to hopefully get this new boat properly outfitted with all the gear that it needs,” said Kramer.
The new boat is an inboard/outboard, as opposed to the jet boat that is currently in use. Because of this, Kramer said they are looking into options to keep divers around it safe, such as a cage around the prop.
“For safety issues we want it to be set up the best as possible, so we don’t accidentally have a diver come up when the prop is turning,” said Kramer.
Kramer said that they have been actively working with the Waterways Board to get the boat outfitted with items such as spotlights and life jackets to make it ready for use in early spring.
Due to the inboard/outboard motor, there will be limitations for the new boat.
“With a prop boat we are more limited — it will be more from town going north,” said Kramer. “The river channel going east is so shallow. Almost year round it is a jet boat channel instead of a prop. It will still come in handy; it is another resource.”
Adding the new boat to the Marine Program will increase the safety factor for people on the waterways in Boundary County, as well as contribute to training exercises for the first responders of the Sheriff’s Office and Search and Dive Rescue.
“We never know when we will need the marine boats, or multiple boats,” said Kramer. “This last example, the train derailment, showed how important it was to have a good marine boat, with the quick response, as well as the technology to help us navigate that. On any search, or just patrols, having a second boat available, both for us and for search and rescue, to be able to use when needed, will help keep our rivers safer.”