Fire Department Receives Funding For Water Rescue Program

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After seeking funding for several years, The Berkeley Fire Department was presented with a grant Friday to develop a water rescue program.

The $44,500 grant, provided by the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company and Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Insurance Brokers, will pay for the purchase of water rescue equipment and a weeklong rescue course for 12 firefighters.

With the Berkeley Marina, Aquatic Park and seven miles of shoreline, a firefighters realized the city's need for better water rescue capabilities, said Fire Chief Debra Pryor.

"It started out with a vision of several members in our department," Pryor said. "They set out to design a premier water rescue program."

Among the new equipment purchased were helmets, dry suits, flotation devices and marine radios.

The Department receives three or four calls per year about people in the water, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong.

"It isn't about how many times (the equipment) is used, but that it's availible to effect a rescue," Dong said.

The funding came from the Fireman's Fund's Heritage Program, which provides grants to fire departments based on proposals from the company's employees. The program also awards money to causes selected by affiliated insurance brokers who earn points with the company.

The Heritage Program's committee did not award the grant when it was first proposed in late 2007 because it was too expensive, according to Sue Miller, a vice president of Fireman's Fund Insurance Company and advocate of the proposal.

The committee passed the proposal a few months later because Don Tarantino, area president of Gallagher-Tarantino, a division of Gallagher & Co., offered to apply his company's points towards the grant, worth approximately $10,000.

"The cause was something I couldn't deny," Tarantino said. "My family for generations made their living on the water, and we are doing something to make the water safer."

While the grants were sufficient for the Department to implement the program, Pryor said that additional grants will likely be needed to maintain the program in the future.

Firefighter Jim Geissinger said the water rescue program could be a model for other cities.

"Our neighboring departments are paying attention to what we are doing today," he said. "This will be a prototype for others to follow."


Contact James Parker at [email protected]

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