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Longboat Key Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 2 years ago

Longboat fire, police gain thousands in grants

First responder agencies awarded more than $130,000 for marine purposes.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

When you think of law enforcement on the water, you might think of high-speed boat chases or daring rescues amidst crashing waves. Longboat Key isn’t exactly known for its plethora of aquatic criminals or dangerous waters, but there are still plenty of tasks for the police and fire departments to take care of at sea.

Those tasks include emergency response, marine patrol, enforcement of boating laws and the removal of abandoned or wrecked vessels. And both departments recently received financial grants from the West Coast Inland Navigation District to help with these very issues. For the fire department, it means the replacement of two outboard motors and some additional equipment. For the police, it will bring a new boat and additional resources to help remove derelict vessels.

Longboat Key Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino said that one of Longboat’s two police boats is 13 years old, making it the oldest in the fleet charged with patrolling Sarasota-area waters. (This fleet would also include, for example, boats from the marine patrol units of cities such Sarasota and Venice.) After saving the money from the last two years of WCIND grants, this year’s $86,400 installment finally gives the department the necessary payment to buy a replacement.

Thirteen years may not seem that old to a recreational boater, but Rubino pointed out that the boat gets used daily for 12 hours, in all kinds of weather.

“It takes a lot of wear and tear,” Rubino said. “That boat... takes a good pounding.”

This boat responds to emergency and routine calls near both Longboat Key and surrounding cities, conducts boating safety inspections, watches for intoxicated boaters and assists in drug seizures. It works with the Sarasota sheriff’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Customs & Border Protection and other agencies.

This year’s grant will also provide Longboat Key police with the necessary money to buy a boat lift. The boat lift allows any of the police officers who are trained as boat operators, not simply the one designated as a marine patrol officer, to quickly deploy one of the boats in case of an emergency.

The police department also received a second grant, this one relating to the removal of derelict and wrecked boats. This $20,000 grant will only be used if the WCIND can no longer provide money from its own fund used to remove derelict vessels in the region. If the money is not used, it will be returned to the WCIND.

“So if we had a storm, for instance, like Charley (in 2004),” Rubino said, “and we had a whole bunch of boats that were blown and destroyed. I would imagine that the grant would be used up fairly quickly. You look at Longboat Key, [it] has gone years without having a derelict vessel. And then we've had a couple years where we had several. So it's really hard to tell what or how many [derelict] vessels you will have in the year.”

The fire department received a grant of its own: $32,231 to help purchase two replacement motors for its emergency response vessel and some additional equipment. According to Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, the current motors are nine years old and have racked up the hours necessary to hit the target for replacement. The boat has been used more often in recent years, making it imperative to keep machinery running smoothly.

“Now we're part of what we call the MERT: Marine Emergency Response Team,” Dezzi said. “So when we used to go out with only one boat, now we go with two boats, meaning that Sarasota County Fire Department or West Manatee assists us, and we assist them.”

The grant money, which will cover half of the project (as is the standard for WCIND grants for the fire department), will also be used to purchase safety equipment such as strobe lights and foam as well as repairs such as seat reupholstering. The other half of this project will be paid by a general fund from the town.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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