Orient FD goes down to the sea

Orient Fire Department, long without a water rescue vessel, now has two. In addition to buying Southold

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Orient Fire Department didn’t own a single rescue boat larger than a Zodiac — and the department was none too happy about that.

Now it has a fleet of vessels, including two over 20 feet, but some fire commissioners still aren’t all that pleased. Their pique isn’t about the boats, it’s about what it took to get them.

The department now owns the town’s bay constable’s old rescue vessel, a 1989 24-foot Boston Whaler with twin 150 hp outboards, for which it paid just over $16,000. The boat became surplus when the town received grant funds to purchase a new one. The Orient FD, which has the Sound, Gardiners Bay and Plum Gut within its coverage area, wanted the Town Board to skip the bidding process and offer it directly to the department.

“We live in a black hole out here,” Commissioner Bud Griffiths told the Town Board during its July 13 work session. “We’re in desperate need of that boat.”

The Town Board decided to wait for the bids to come in before making a choice. Councilman Bill Ruland drew the commissioners’ ire when he said that, since all Southold taxpayers funded the boat’s purchase, one community should not get a preferred price.

“Nothing has precluded you from going out and getting a boat of your own,” the councilman said. When commissioner and former supervisor Scott Harris said economic conditions preclude such a purchase, Mr. Ruland replied, “That’s not our concern.”

An Orient resident who read The Suffolk Times account of that meeting donated her late husband’s 21-foot Parker, powered by a 175 hp Mercury outboard.

“Her husband had died a year earlier and she felt he would have been thrilled to know that his boat might just save someone else’s life,” Mr. Griffiths said this week. “We can’t thank her enough for her generous donation.”

The department took possession of the Parker in late July and soon began training emergency services technicians on it. The “Tup1” is being retrofitted with new radar, radios and GPS systems.

“It’s big enough to take out in the Gut and the Sound on a calm day, but we wouldn’t want to take it out on a rough day,” said Mr. Griffiths.

The boat is a 2001 model but the engine has only 14 hours on it. “This boat is just beautiful,” the commissioner said.

As for the former town Boston Whaler, Commissioner Linton Duel said the department hopes to have the 24-footer in the water in about a week. One of the engine’s lower units needs to be replaced, and so far the department doesn’t know what that will cost. That boat will be kept at Orient by the Sea Marina, close to Plum Gut.

“We didn’t think that we should pay what we did for a surplus boat the town was getting rid of,” Mr. Duel said. Referring to the July exchange with Councilman Ruland, he quipped, “Maybe we’ll just use it to rescue Orient residents.”

In all the rescue calls the Orient department has received since July 1987, when two ferries collided in heavy fog, not one rescue has been of an Orient resident, said Mr. Griffiths.

“When you make a 911 call, the operator doesn’t ask if you’re from Orient,” he said. “Neither do we. This is not just for Orient residents. This is for everybody.”

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