Brown County’s new ice rescue airboat

 
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published: 25 October 2011
by: Charles Davis

Sheriff’s Dept. is training officers to use the craft

DE PERE, WI — The Brown County Sheriff’s Department has a new boat that can help rescue people who are stranded or fall through the ice.

The department acquired the 23-foot 1000 Island Airboat in June and began training officers on how to navigate it about a month and a half ago, said Brown County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Wickman, who supervises the unit that handles cases involving watercrafts.

Brown County ice rescue airboat

Brown County Sheriff Department's new ice rescue airboat: Lt. Kevin Wickman talks about the new airboat that can help rescue people who are stranded or fall through the ice.

“This gives us a platform to work off of where we can go from the water, to the ice, then back to the water when performing a rescue,” Wickman said.

The boat — which is red, black and white — has no neutral or reverse steering. There are also no underwater propellers. On Monday, crews took the boat for a spin on the Fox River at the Fox Point Boat Launch in De Pere to become familiar with how to navigate it and handle various speeds.

The boat was paid for with a $179,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security in 2008. About $44,000 was added to the effort by Brown County taxpayers. It’s the department’s third boat.

Brown County Sheriff John Gossage said the boat would likely be used to help people who are stranded or fall into icy water.

“It will increase officer safety and help keep everybody safe out on the water,” Gossage said.

Officers previously worked with a flat bottom boat and used rope to pull victims to safety, Gossage said. Crews also would ride on ice with all-terrain vehicles, which jeopardized officers’ safety, Gossage said. Ice had also damaged propellers on other boats used to perform such rescues, which cost about $600 to repair, he added.

Six members from the department’s Marine Unit, which responds to rescue calls on the bay of Green Bay and Fox River, will be trained on how to operate the boat. About six of the remaining members will be trained next year, Wickman said. Additional training will occur once the Fox River freezes, he said.

The boat has six safety lights and a GMC truck engine in the back with 4-foot propeller blades. A first aid kit is stocked on the boat, and Wickman said rescue missions could include the assistance of emergency medical services personnel. Similar watercrafts are used in Winnebago County and by the U.S. Coast Guard in Sturgeon Bay, Wickman said.

The De Pere and Green Bay fire departments each have two boats used for ice-rescue missions.