VAN METER — Saturday featured a late-night rescue effort by Van Meter firefighters, as they helped get 13 people off of a sandbar. It was the first time the team used this new air-boat for a real operation, but they say they could never go back to working without it.
In Van Meter, water rescues don’t happen often. There are only a handful of them every summer.
But when they do: “Cutting the response time on a water rescue is huge,” said assistant chief Jermey Feldman from the Van Meter Fire Department.
Their coverage area extends along the Raccoon River down to Booneville. Often on the waterways, you’ll see wooded trouble spots, where kayakers, tubers and canoers can get easily stranded.
Their old boats, while capable, weren’t always the fastest. There was one long night last summer.
“West Des Moines was out there with their boats, and there was thirteen or
15 people and that took all night long, because of how shallow the river was and the boats all kept getting stuck,” said Feldman.
They weren’t really mobile either.
“This boat allows us to travel in extremely shallow water, where other boats that have a motor down in the water will not be able to go,” said Feldman.
So, they started talking with a group from Georgia about getting a boat like you’d see in the swamp.
“With the airboat we are saving a lot of time, with every trip. If it’s multiple people we’re saving time on multiple trips,” said Feldman.
The latest water rescue for Van Meter was Sunday afternoon. Someone had a medical condition along a sandbar. It took about 20 minutes to get everyone off and back onto the shoreline. But in the past, it would’ve taken at least an hour to complete.
“If that victim is suffering a true medical emergency, that time is very critical,” said Feldman.
Their new airboat can fit five people inside in a single trip and it’s an investment for which they’ll forever be grateful.
“We’ve all discussed this in depth and in length, and we’ve all come to the conclusion that this boat is a game changer for us on the river,” said Feldman.
Van Meter is eager to collaborate with other fire departments. They say they’re willing to demonstrate the capabilities for anyone who is interested in getting one for themselves.