The fact that Ocean Shores had decommissioned its surf rescue team as a cost-saving item in 2013 never occurred to Jim Brannan as he clung to his overturned boat north of Damon Point for nearly an hour, watching responding police and firefighters arrive on the shore.
“The public doesn’t know,” Brannan said last week after he went to the Ocean Shores City Council to tell of his June 6 ordeal and question why no one would — or could — do more than shoot a lifeline toward him to help pull him ashore. “When I was in that water, I thought I was not going to make it.”
“You cannot have a beach community and not have a surf rescue. The public needs to know that if you’re out there, you are pretty much on your own,” he said.
Prior to 2013, Ocean Shores did have a fully trained surf rescue team composed of personnel from the police and fire departments, but the $52,000 needed to fund the effort was cut from the 2013-2014 budgets by the City Council, and it was never restored. At the time, the council passed a resolution preventing the use of any tax funds for surf rescue.
Brannan was incredulous. “I have never been in a situation where I stood on the beach and watched someone drown. I cannot imagine that. But I do know what it’s like to be out in that water looking back at the beach, thinking there’s the Fire Department and they are going to watch me drown.”
Brannan had been fishing in his small boat when he fell overboard, then tipped over the boat trying to get back aboard. He was wearing a life jacket equipped with a whistle, and he began blowing the whistle and yelling for help until he could see people arriving on shore.
“Tuesday afternoon (the fire department) received tones for a surf rescue south of the marina off of Snuggler’s Cove. There was a second-hand report of a fisherman in a small boat that had capsized and he was blowing a whistle and yelling for help,” said a Fire Department news release on the incident.
When police and fire personnel arrived on the scene, they found Brannan still in the water about 300-350 feet offshore, according to the Fire Department.
Brannan recalls: “I was swimming so hard and pulling my boat, because it was swamped but still it was floating, so I could hold on to the bow. But then I thought, ‘OK, I can hear the sirens,’ and then people walked out, but I could see no one was in a wet suit, and no one had a surf board. I was getting really cold, and I yelled, ‘Hey, I’m in trouble! I need help.’”
He estimates he had been in the water for about an hour, trying to keep his boat afloat.
“The man was too cold to make it in to shore on his own,” the department news release said. “Fire department personnel used the ResQmax air-propelled line gun to shoot a flotation device attached to a tag line near the victim. He was able to grab it and put on the flotation sling while the rescue crew pulled the man into shore.
“He was very close to having hypothermia and spent over 30 minutes in the back of the ambulance with blankets and heat packs while the EMS crew performed their evaluation,” the statement read.
Brannan made a passionate appeal to the Ocean Shores City Council to reconsider funding for surf rescue.
“I talked to those guys (who responded) afterward, and they told me their hands were tied,” he said. “They have been told, ‘Don’t go into the water.’”
Of all the city’s priorities, Brannan said, surf rescue would seem to be among the most important. “Something needs to be done about this and it’s not going to go away.”