Sheriff's new public safety boat in port, ready for duty

Local officials get acquainted with the equipment and operation of San Juan County Sheriff Department
Local officials get acquainted with the equipment and operation of San Juan County Sheriff Department's new public safety boat, the 'Sentinel,' on its first day in Friday Harbor.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Bigger. Faster. Built to endure.

And with a lot more firepower—as in a pump that can shoot out 1,500 gallons of water per-minute, three times the amount that’s now available to fight a fire at the water’s edge.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Department took possession of its new public safety boat, “Sentinel,” Monday morning at the Port of Friday Harbor. Funded by a $600,000-plus federal grant and built by Burlington-based Munson Boats, the Sentinel and its arrival in Friday Harbor signal an end to a two-year bureaucratic odyssey for the Sheriff’s Department and the beginning of a new era of public safety out on the water.

“I am elated to see this come to fruition,” Sheriff Rob Nou said.

The sheriff’s department will maintain and operate the Sentinel in partnership with the San Juan Island fire department and Shaw Island fire department. Previously, officials of the fire districts on Lopez and Orcas islands, and San Juan Emergency Medical Services, opted out of joining what initially had been conceived as a maintenance and operation agreement between all the county’s public safety agencies.

Nou earlier estimated that maintenance of the department's fleet will be about $100,000 per year - although some of that cost will be allocated to the San Juan Island and Shaw Island fire departments and to operations grants from a number of outside agencies that benefit from the department's activity out on the water , such as the Washington Department of Licensing, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to greater water-pump capacity, the Sentinel is equipped with twin Volvo diesel engines, is 38-by-12 feet in size, has a 7-foot wide “bow ramp” and can reach 40 mph at top speed, Nou said.

San Juan Island Fire Department Chief Steve Marler anticipates a 3-4 month training period before firefighters are fully familiar with the equipment and operation of the Sentinel and are ready to use the boat in responding to a fire.

The Sentinel is also expected to replace San Juan Island Fire Department’s fireboat Confidence, however, as well as the Sheriff’s department’s 25-year-old Boston Whaler, both of which have been deemed to be past their useful lives, according to public safety officials.

The Guardian, a 32-foot boat acquired in 2005 at a cost of about $260,000 and a replacement value of about $400,000, will replace the Boston Whaler and be stationed at Orcas Island. The county Public Works Department also operates a 35-foot aluminum landing-craft workboat and two 20-foot workboats.

Construction of the boat was funded through a Department of Homeland Security grant. Under terms of the grant, the Sentinel was expect4ed to be in the water and ready for use by mid-August.


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