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Multiple agencies respond to large vessel fire; two rescued

March 3, 2014
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The Cape Coral Fire Department's Marine units assisted nine other agencies when a large yacht caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico Monday morning.

Lee County received a call of a large boat fire three miles south of Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico just before 11 a.m. Marine 1, out on a training exercise, immediately responded along with vessels from other fire districts as well as the Fish & Wildfire Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to Lt. Michael Russell, a Good Samaritan fisherman rescued a man and a woman from the Gulf waters and they were then transferred to a craft from Fish and Wildlife. Cape Coral was the first emergency services unit to arrive and transported the two occupants to Sanibel Island to be checked by paramedics within 40 minutes of the call for help.

"They were upset at the loss of the boat, but they were glad to have escaped uninjured," said Russell in a prepared statement released late Monday afternoon by the Cape Coral Fire Department.

Firefighting boats from Sanibel Island and Iona-McGregor arrived shortly after and began fighting the fire. The fire was reported out and the boat began to sink at 12:15 p.m. The cause of the fire was undetermined according to Sanibel Island fire officials and no damage estimate was immediately available.

A total of 10 local, state and federal agencies responded to the incident, including the Cape Coral Fire Department, Iona-McGregor, Sanibel Island, Bonita Springs, Pine Island and Estero Fire Districts joining the Lee County Sheriff's Office, Lee County EMS, the USCG and FWC.

Fact Box

Marine vessel fires can be a very tragic and expensive incident, Cape Coral Fire Department officials said Monday. Many of the watercraft in and around local are the pride of their owners and the cost to replace or even repair due to a fire can be significant. Cape Coral firefighters urge boat owners to consider these fire safety tips:

* Use Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) marine-approved cord sets and connections. Do not hook up if you see burn marks or your cord set will not firmly connect.

* Routinely replace cord sets. Worn or overloaded cord sets and damaged shore power connections are a common cause of fires.

* Regularly inspect electrical and fuel systems. Have a professional upgrade the wiring to maintain the needs of your navigational equipment and other appliances.

* Never leave operating electrical equipment, including heaters, unattended. When leaving your boat for any reason, turn portable heaters off.

* Smoke alarms are important life-saving devices and should be installed in your boat.

* Plan your escape. Having an escape plan can save your life in an emergency.

* Have a USCG approved fire extinguisher onboard and know how to use it. Fire extinguishers should be mounted near an exit so you are moving toward an exit as you access the extinguisher.

* Properly dispose of oily rags in metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Leaving oily rags wrapped up in a grocery sack is not safe. The chemicals will begin to breakdown the rags, causing heat and possibly a fire.

The most common causes of boat fires are: electrical malfunctions, unattended portable heaters and poor housekeeping

Source: Cape Coral Fire Department

"This is a great example of how our regional MERT program worked," said Cape Coral Fire Department spokesman Michael Heeder in the agency statement.

The Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT) is a group of specially trained firefighters from around the county that are called out when there is someone in the water and a rescue boat is needed.

"The MERT has been active for nearly nine years," said Heeder. "After 9/11, the local agencies were tasked with supporting search and rescue efforts along with the Coast Guard, and grant funding helped purchase the equipment we needed."

Source: Cape Coral Fire Department



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