On an island surrounded by water and featuring hundreds of swimming pools, there are no lifeguards on Longboat Key. Luckily, the Longboat Key Fire Rescue has its residents covered.
“We are the lifeguards for Longboat Key,” Assistant Chief Mike Regnier said.
Regnier was overseeing the fire department’s annual water rescue refresher training at the Sand Cay Resort on Thursday. The resort’s lush lawn abutting the sand and sea set a stage for relaxation, but there was no rest for fire department personnel. Spread over three mornings, the staff of 33 took shifts performing rigorous lifesaving drills in both the resort’s pool and the Gulf of Mexico.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from it is that when you get out there and you’re swimming in the gulf or when you’re doing rescues in the pool, it takes a lot of exertion,” Ron Koper said. “It’s a good reminder that if you have to go out there, it’s going to be some work. Keep yourself in shape.”
Koper has been with the fire department for seven years and had just returned to shore after training on the department’s personal watercraft. He said the main vehicle used for marine rescues is the boat, but if there’s a swimmer 100 yards from the beach, the smaller machine cuts their response time in half.
“We keep our boat on the Intracoastal side at the Longboat Key Marina, so regardless of which way you go, south or north, it takes you 30 minutes to get out to the gulf,” Koper said. “This thing can be deployed within 10 minutes and be out here in five.”
Sarasota County lifeguards from Siesta Key led the training.
“Even though they’re fire fighters, because they work on Longboat Key, they’re surrounded by water,” Lifeguard Captain Roy Routh said. “They may get a call where they have a distressed patient out in the water, so they may have to actually go out in the water to get their patient.”
Regnier stressed what a collaborative effort both training and rescues are between Longboat Key, Sarasota and Manatee counties. The departments cover each other during training sessions and work together on rescues.
“We are concerned about the community. We work with each other and utilize the best practices from other entities, so that we are on top of our game as well as they are,” Regnier said. “We work together. In case there is a true emergency, we can do it seamlessly.”