Frenchtown Township firefighters rescue boaters from Lake Erie

Boat with children onboard began taking on water as storms started moving in

By Roger Weber - Reporter

FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Eight people had left Brest Bay marina for a ride on Lake Erie. They called for help just before 7 p.m. Wednesday because their 22-foot boat no longer would run.

"We received the information from the Coast Guard as well as our 911 dispatchers that we had a vessel in Brest Bay taking on water," said Frenchtown Township firefighter John DeBarr.

Three firefighters including DeBarr and Joe Henderson put Frenchtown Township's new rescue boat into action.

"Because they did have two children onboard so we wanted to get them on our boat ASAP," Henderson said.

They found them about a mile offshore.

"We assertained that we had about 6 inches of water down in the hull. We were unable to dewater it at that time," said DeBarr.

The rescuers had to hurry because storms would soon pummel Metro Detroit.

"The way that their vessel was sitting in the water there was a potential for a capsize," said DeBarr.

"It was a nice ride on the way. On our way in she started picking up and getting rough on us," said Henderson.

It's a good thing the Fire Department purchased that rescue boat. It wasn't in full service until a few weeks ago.

"We're probably talking 20 to 30 minute difference in that rescue time," said Frenchtown Township Fire Chief Mark Nicholai.

A photo taken by a neighbor shows the rescue boat arriving back at the marina. Firefighters say only three of the eight people were wearing life jackets when they were taken off their boat. The firefighters supplied the rest.

"Well, without a personal floatation device, your ability to remain above water in the temperatures that we had -- roughly 75 degrees -- hypothermia is going to set it, you're not going to be able to tread water very long," said DeBarr.

The people rescued could not be reached for comment. They were not injured and their boat was towed back to the marina.

The Fire Department has no authority to issue tickets for not having life jackets in the boat. That's up to the U.S. Coast Guard and it automatically reviews any rescue of people on the water.

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