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Coast Guard, Fire Departments Working More Closely Together

Agreement signed on Wednesday with Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Montauk agencies is the first of its kind on the East End.

Three East End fire departments joined the Coast Guard for training for fires at sea and in search and rescue operations, as part of a new agreement to standardize efforts between the agencies, which was signed in a ceremony at the Montauk Fire Department on Wednesday evening. 

The agreement aligns firefighter at-sea training standards with those of the Coast Guard and is the first of its kind to be completed on the East End, according to the Coast Guard. During the ceremony, 12 volunteer firefighters from the , , and Shelter Island fire departments were recognized for completing the Coast Guard training.

“Through this training, we greatly strengthened our partnerships with some of the local fire departments,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Derek Paulsen, the executive petty officer at Coast Guard Station Montauk, who Walter said was instrumental in the training program along with Chief East Hampton Town Harbormaster Ed Michels. “The station boat crews can now respond alongside these fire department marine units as one unified team.”

Expert boat handlers from the Coast Guard Station and the East End Marine Task Force teach a 30-hour training course in a classroom and out at sea. Topics covered include response safety, risk assessment, communications, navigation and search and rescue. 

Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason said it is important for the Coast Guard and fire departments to work together during fires at-sea and search and rescue operations for tactical, as well as safety reasons. "Obviously, the Coast Guard isn't fighting fires with the gear we have, and fire fighters shouldn't fight marine firs with equipment they wear for a house fire," he said. 

Part of the training is on the proper protective equipment, such as proper flotation devices, and cold weather gear.

Sag Harbor Fire Department Chief Pete Garypie said the training was well worth it. "We jumped on board, obviously, because being the waterfront community we are we have a great opportunity to work with the Coast Guard on every call." He called it a "home run" for the department.

The fire chief recommends it to others. "Any department that has any water rescue team or dive team or even just a fire boat, it's great training by people who do it everyday." 

About a year ago, the Coast Guard met with over 25 different fire departments and offered this program, Walter said. While only three departments took part in the training so far, the Coast Guard is encouraging others to take part, he said. Classes will be offered, if enough people sign up, on evenings and weekends. 

The program and agreement is part of a larger initiative by Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, in Connecticut, to work more closely with area fire departments that respond to emergencies off the coasts of Connecticut and Long Island. 

“Many citizens only associate the fire department with their red trucks and their activities on shore, but most fire departments also have a presence on the water,” said Capt. Joe Vojvodich, the Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound commander, who traveled over for the event.

In a statement, he said, “This agreement is a big step forward in standardizing rescue procedures and training between the Coast Guard and our partner agencies. The local fire departments are invaluable partners to the Coast Guard when responding to marine accidents,” he said.

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