By David Pepin
The recent rescue of a kayaker from a Narragansett Bay buoy wasn’t quite all in a day’s work for the East Greenwich Fire District’s Marine 1 crew.
“It was two guys with binoculars, looking for a needle in a haystack,” Deputy Chief Russell McGillivray said of the June 9 rescue of a North Kingstown kayaker whose boat capsized during a vicious thunderstorm that ripped through the bay.
The drama on the bay had a happy ending, but also pointed up the need for preparation and safety for boaters and swimmers when favorable weather conditions suddenly turn bad.
It also provided an opportunity for the district’s 26-foot craft, purchased and 2006 and docked at East Greenwich Yacht Club, and its crew to answer the call of duty on the west side of the bay, along with the North Kingstown Fire Department to the south and the Marine Task Force, including fire personnel from Providence, East Providence, Cranston and Warwick, to the north.
McGillivray and Capt. Thomas G. Mears said the EGFD boat, which is equipped with radar and GPS, is usually called out to assist on the water 15 to 20 times a year, but rarely on the type of challenging rescue it faced June 9.
During the storm, which arrived in the bay around 5:30 p.m., the missing kayaker and his friend were separated while paddling across the bay. The friend made it in to shore and called emergency personnel, McGillivray said.
The crew of Lt. Robert Beaudreau and Firefighters Zachary Rice and Marin Colombier then took Marine 1 out of Greenwich Cove and out into open water.
“They’re out looking for a guy on the water or on a buoy in low visibility. For these guys to find him on the buoy was unbelievably lucky,” McGillivray said.
The kayaker had fallen out of his boat and struggled through rain and lightning to the buoy.
“It was closer to Patience Island than the East Greenwich shore,” said Mears, adding that the crew had difficulty maneuvering the boat into position to recover the kayaker due to the conditions.
McGillivray said the kayaker was transported to Kent County Memorial Hospital for treatment of exhaustion and hypothermia.
“He said he was about 10 minutes away from giving up, he was so tired from swimming to the buoy and trying to hold on,” McGillivray said.
Disaster can strike even the best prepared boaters, Mears said.
“Make sure you’re wearing a personal floatation device when you’re out on the water. This guy probably would’ve drowned without one,” he said.
Additional information on boating safety and marine emergency response is available on the state Department of Environmental Management’s website at www.dem.ri.gov .