published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Lake residents want to create emergency response team
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- When boaters run out of gas, get lost or have some other kind of emergency on Lake Istokpoga, it may take a while for help to reach them. However, residents of the area want to change that by developing a citizens rapid-response team that can get out on the lake at a moment's notice.
That matter will be one of the items slated to come up for discussion at the Highlands County Commission's monthly night meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Government Center.
Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association President Ken Stebbins said it is a matter of logistics.
"Many times, the state boat or the county boat cannot get out there right away. But most of us can just walk out on our docks, get in our vessels and head out," he said.
Stebbins said the organization has put together a group of volunteers who are willing to either go out themselves or, if need be, take emergency personnel to the scene in their private watercraft.
A survey of local fish camps has shown there are as many as five to eight incidents per month of varying severity on the lake. Problems range from boaters who get disoriented and lost to boats that take on water or even are involved in accidents.
"When you run out of gas or if your motor quits out on the water at 7:30 at night, what are you going to do? Who are you going to call?" he said. "That then becomes an emergency."
Stebbins said the Friends of Istokpoga has a large membership and they have signed up volunteers who will be responsible for different areas of the lake. In an effort to distribute duties, they have developed a grid system with different areas of responsibility.
"We have some folks down by Trail's End, others are up by Henderson's and pretty much all around the lake," he said.
The proposal is that when people call 911, dispatchers will call the appropriate resident from a list, who will then respond to help solve the problem. Stebbins said he believed the vast majority of problems would be non-life threatening situations.
Volunteers will have to put some special equipment on their boats, such as gas cans, tow gear and the like. Stebbins said representative of the group also have been talking with the county and other agencies about getting some training as well.
"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has training courses ... on such things as how to approach a boat from upwind or downwind, things like that," he said.
The idea is to allow citizens to help make the big lake safer, especially for novice boaters and those who come in from outside the area.
In other action, commissioners are expected to be asked to approve an updated fee schedule for the Highlands County Health Department and will look at a proposed letter of agreement between the county and the State of Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. That would increase funding for the provision of Medicade, as well as uninsured and under-insured patients in the community.
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