The commissioning of the MV Island Responder at the Chemainus wharf Thursday afternoon is seen as a significant milestone in emergency services within B.C.
It’s the province’s first purpose-built marine ambulance, operated under a long-term contract with Chemainus Water Taxi Ltd. by BC Emergency Health Services, and seen as an important lifeline for the proper administration of medical treatment for residents of the islands neighbouring Chemainus. It comes with all the amenities – an on/off ramp for stretchers and wheelchairs and 100 square feet of room inside to make the the transport and treatment of patients easier and more efficient.
It was all cause for celebration and numerous members of BCEHS, Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., Chemainus ambulance crew members, Penelakut elder August Sylvester and the men who operate the vessel themselves were on hand for the special ceremony that finally happened after being postponed from last November when an atmospheric river deluge struck the region. Piper Mike Wright and honour guard members Glenn Hovgaard and Wray Watson led the assembled guests along the dock to the boat’s berth.
“This place is a well-respected area,” said Sylvester in welcoming everyone to Penelakut territory.
“What we’re going to do is bless that boat so it won’t tip over. We want them to have their safe rides – safety first.”
The boat has already been put into service more than 85 times for emergency responses since November of 2021.
“It seems dozens of our patients have been able to get medical attention,” said Heather Edward, South Vancouver Island director of BCEHS. “It’s kept our patients safe and our medical responders.”
Making the service a reality did not come without a great deal of effort.
“There’s a lot of people who were involved in the process,” said Bob Mollet, one of the captains of the vessel and operations manager for Chemainus Water Taxi, who acknowledged those contributions.
Edward concurred about the effort that went into it “and it shows in that amazing vessel that’s there.”
“I think it’s long overdue to have this vessel,” added Stuart Myers, B.C. Ambulance Service worker and regional vice-president of CUPE 873.
Chris Mullin and Harmen Bootsma are the two main captains, with Chemainus Water Taxi owner Brian Francoeur and Mollet serving in relief. They are at the ready to answer calls 24/7, with a minimal response time since they all live within minutes of the dock to launch the boat.
Doug Spraggett and the build team at Northwest Aluminum Craft were crucial in the design.
“Doug worked with us closely on details that we needed and often offered innovative solutions and suggestions,” explained Mollet. “Northwest Aluminum Craft delivered this very unique, fast, capable vessel on time and on budget.”
The vessel is a S32 catamaran with a custom cabin design. It’s 35’6” long and 11’6” wide and powered by two 300 horsepower Mercury outboard motors.
Mollet said the decision to go with a catamaran hinged on several factors, including: the width of the vessel allowed more cabin space without increasing the length; the wide platform offers excellent stability at dockside when transferring the weight of a loaded Stryker cot and personnel on or off; and the shallow draft is important for some of the smaller islands where docking is tide dependent.