published: 19 March 2013
by: Jon Lloyd
Emergency response time on Des Moines River cut dramatically
The time it takes to rescue someone on the Des Moines River in Boone County, Iowa, US, has improved dramatically thanks to the recent acquisition of an airboat by the county’s Search & Rescue (S&R) team.
“The issue has been in the last few years since the river has been so low it takes a long time to get (to victim),” Sergeant Dallas Wingate of the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, in charge of S&R for nearly seven years, said. “We have the equipment to get there. It just takes so long.”
Using the airboat, S&R personnel can get up and down the river quickly, he said, and “reach places potentially that we could not go.”
S&R has a Johnboat and a Zodiac at its disposal for river rescues, but since they are powered by outboard motors and because the river is so low they cannot be used, said Arlo Starbuck, a 27-year-old member of the S&R team.
Built by Iowa Airboat Factory in Janesville, the 12-by-6 foot aluminum craft, an Alumna, is powered by a standard Subaru car engine and 72-inch propeller. A pancake breakfast in October that raised $1,500, a Beckwith Endowment of $5,000 and funds in the S&R coffers covered the $8,500 cost of the boat, said Wingate, the K-9 officer for the sheriff’s office.
Up until two years ago, S&R was directed by Dave Morlan, Boone County Emergency Management coordinator. To ease some of his workload, it was switched over to the sheriff’s office, he said.
Last summer, S&R received a call of a woman in her late 50s suffering from heat stroke while tubing on the river. Because of the low water level, S&R used its Argo, an eight-wheel amphibious vehicle to get to the woman.
It took an hour to reach her, Starbuck said, adding the Argo “gets us there, but it’s not fast.”
“The river was so low we couldn’t get our regular boats in,”
he said. “We had to use our Argo, the eight-wheel, all-terrain amphibious vehicle.”
Morlan estimated that with the airboat, S&R personnel would have reached the woman in five to ten minutes.
“Without a full load it will go up to 35 mph on the river with that little amount of water,” said Starbuck, who works as an operator for the 3M Company in Ames. “With a full load, (Iowa Airboat Factory) said it would go 10 to 15 mph.”
With or without a full load, the time to reach her “would have been cut dramatically,” Starbuck said.
Wingate himself found some tubers lost on the river last summer at night in August. He had to walk to find them.
“Two tubers were lost on the river near Luther (last summer),” Starbuck said. “We ended going on foot to find them.”
With the airboat, S&R personnel can travel most anywhere on the river, he said, adding it can travel on the river on one to two inches of water and also operate on mud, ice and snow.
“It just needs some sore of moisture on the ground to be able to go,” he said.
Wingate said the S&R team, which has about 20 members, will be trained to operate the airboat this spring.
The idea of getting an airboat came up last summer with S&R personnel, Starbuck said. With the river so low, they talked about getting an airboat for rescue operations. He looked into it, he said, and found Iowa Airboat Factory.
“With the low water on the river it will be able to help us with river incidents,” Starbuck said. “We also help with the (Dragoon) River Romp and we might possibly take it on the River Romp.”