Chief Miller: Does BPS need river response?

Published 9:51 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bainbridge Public Safety Director Eric Miller asked the Bainbridge City Council on Tuesday night if they wanted his agency to respond to fire, rescue and law enforcement incidents occurring on the Flint River.

Miller, who noted that he was seeking the council’s direction and not proposing anything specifically, said his concern was that BPUS currently has no way to directly respond to those incidents when they happen.

City Manager Chris Hobby pointed out that although the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office has a rescue team and a boat, it currently doesn’t have any assets in the water at all times. He explained that the DCSO has a boat on a trailer at the Sheriff’s Office and keep some of their gear on fire trucks, which means they have to gather assets and launch the boat into the water at various points.

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Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer probed at what led to Miller’s presentation, in which he detailed what type of incidents might require Public Safety’s response, either by using a boat or lifesaving equipment kept in officers’ patrol cars. BPS officers are jointly trained as police officers and firefighters, but currently do not have water-related training.

“[This would entail] the city paying for the functions of the county government,” Palmer said. “We don’t need to be in the boat business.We have the Sheriff’s rescue unit. We don’t need a $5,000 boat or to spend the money to go and get it.”

Palmer said she would personally like to see BPS partner with the Sheriff’s Office and Decatur County Fire and Rescue on enhancing existing aquatic response.

After the meeting, Hobby said city officials had recently been given an opportunity to buy a 41-foot-long former U.S. Coast Guard boat that the federal government was releasing as surplus. The boat, worth $300,000 but with an asking price of only $5,000, is located in New Orleans, La. Hobby said the mayor and council’s direction on Tuesday that aquatic public safety needed further study meant the city would not be buying a boat at this time.

“The boat was just an opportunity,” Miller said. “This started with me asking, ‘Do you want us to provide this service? and then I kept my eye out for low-cost ways we could provide that service.”

“At this point, I think we should hold and re-evaluate, perhaps we could take it up at our [annual] retreat, as it needs some further study,” Mayor Edward Reynolds said.

Councilwoman Glennie Bench said she liked Miller’s idea of providing better response in general, but said she had a number of questions.

“I think the immediacy of a response [of having a boat ready to launch] would certainly be a benefit to our citizens, if we can afford it,” Bench said.

Bench’s questions included how often aquatic incidents happen, whether BPS was adequately staffed and trained to provide water-related services, and what the costs to maintain water assets would be.

Miller said there are areas in the city with houses and structures next to the river that can’t be reached by a fire truck. In addition, there are other types of crime besides boating under the influence, such as assaults and homicides, that happen occasionally.

“Since I’ve been in Bainbridge, locally we have had a boat fire, a bridge-jumper, a boat accident with a cervical spine issue and a drowning,” Miller said.