Firefighters brave waves, wind to pull boater off river

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR –

FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Fire Lieutenant Neal Gathers said in 20 years of fire service, Tuesday night was near the top of his list of scariest things ever in service to others.

The Fort Madison Fire Department was dispatched to a stranded boater just north of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge at about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday.

The boater was in a 25-foot pleasure boat and had been spotted by residents on high point with an anchor in on the south side of Dutchman Island just north of the bridge.

Gathers said the original call to LeeComm was at about 4:22 p.m. and originally went to Department of Natural Resources officers, but after no response was received Lee Comm dispatched Fort Madison Fire at about 4:44 and rescue personnel were on the river at about 5:20 p.m.

The man was taking his boat from Minnesota to Louisiana and got beached due to the high winds on the river – winds that wreaked havoc on the fire department as they tried to get to him.

Firefighters Justin Cain, Dale Brisby and Gathers took the boat out.

“When we headed out it was so gusty and dangerous, in 20 years that’s one of the five scariest things I’ve ever had to do,” Gathers said.

“We got stuck going out in the main channel – got pushed into the mud then had waves and muddy water coming into the boat and had it half full. We had to throw an anchor out to get pulled out and around and headed up river.”

Gathers said firefighters were first told the boat was on the north side of Dutchman, but as they went by, Capt. Mike Schneider radioed out to them that the residents on high point said they could see the rescue boat and it had gone passed the stranded boat.

“We then we had to turn around in those winds and big rollers and head south. We found him right away on the other side.”
Gathers said the man wasn’t injured and was with his dog. Firefighters loaded up the man, his dog and three bags of personal items and brought him into shore.

They decided to bring the trailer down to Willow Patch, but Gathers said it wasn’t any easier trying to get the rescue boat out of the water, than it was starting out because of the large waves and wind gusts.

The man was put up in a hotel and firefighters helped him back to the boat Wednesday morning.

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