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Andersonville VFD creates water rescue team

Department adds ‘Marine 1’ boat for Norris Lake

Members of the Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department prepare to launch their new water rescue boat, Marine 1, at Norris Lake on Monday, Aug. 3. From left are Capt. Brian Kroth, Chief Ambrea Peters and firefighter James Brooks. (photo:Stephanie Brooks )
A tragic accident in the swimming area at Anderson County Park earlier this year has spurred the Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department to ramp up its water rescue and recovery capabilities – including putting its first rescue boat into service.

Fire Chief Ambrea Peters said the department has stationed its new “Marine One” boat, equipped with emergency gear, at Station 3 on Sequoyah Road for now, but is looking to rent a slip at either Sequoyah or Stardust marina so it will already be on the water should a rescue call come in.

“We got the boat about two years ago as a donation from TVA, and for under $2,000, we were able to get it into the water to be our first rescue boat,” Peters said. “It’s ready for use, but we still have a few things we’re going to add to it, including emergency lights, a siren, a graph, and an electric trolling motor.”

A 17-year-old boy drowned in the lake at the park, which is right in the middle of the Andersonville Fire Department’s coverage area, Peters noted. She said that having the boat in operation at that time most likely would not have helped prevent the young man’s death, but that it could make a difference in future emergencies.

“The fatality there made it a high priority this year,” Peters said. “We were out there for 12 hours during the recovery effort. That drowning spurred us on, and in three-to-four months’ time, we developed a complete water rescue team.

“We have 33 miles of [Norris Lake] shoreline we cover,” she said. “The curvy roads take a toll on response times, which is another reason we want the boat stationed on the water. The response time from Sequoyah Marina to Anderson County Park is only six minutes.

“Tommy’s Motorsports sold 60 WaveRunners in just one weekend recently, so we have a lot of inexperienced riders out there,” she said.

The boat needed painting, reupholstering and other renovations, but TVA did give the department a marine radio for it, Peters said.

“It will also have a two-way radio on our own emergency frequency,” she said.

The department has been trying to find donations to help with the water rescue ramp-up, Peters said. Beyond the $27,500 the Andersonville department gets from Anderson County each year, it must raise the rest of its annual $100,000 budget from voluntary donations.

“Those [volunteers] who went through rescue swimming and dive school paid for their dive equipment out of their own pockets,” Peters said. “That cost them $1,500 to $2,000 each.”

A previous management regime at the department made an ill-advised and ultimately disastrous attempt to fund the department through a subscription service, but that idea was scrapped several years ago, Peters said.

“Nobody who receives our services ever gets a bill from us,” she added.

The extra money needed for Marine One and the water rescue team had to come from donations above and beyond the department’s regular fund-raising, Peters said.

Last weekend, the department held a fundraiser in connection with Sequoyah Marina’s “Friday Night Wings” event.

Besides part of Norris Lake, about eight miles of Clinch River shoreline is within the department’s coverage area, as are nine miles of Interstate 75, its website says.

The department answers calls to traffic accidents and other emergencies, as well as to fires.