Special Commitment Center Fire Department rescues two young boaters


A 911 call on May 18 led to the Special Commitment Center Fire Department rescuing two young brothers stranded on a sailboat in Puget Sound.

Although the day started off windy, when the wind calmed down the 17- and 10​-year-old boys decided to go sailing. When they got about a quarter mile offshore, the wind kicked up, caught their small sailboat’s aluminum mast and bent it, according to SCC Fire Captain Aaron MacLean. The boys’ boat got caught in unusual winds coming from the south which, combined with tides coming from the north, defied their efforts to paddle to shore.

“It could’ve gone south real fast,” said MacLean.

Fire Lieutenant Esmeralda Martinez answered the call from the Pierce County Sheriff; it was her first day on duty as a permanent member of the department. The boys were near the south of SCC’s McNeil Island, just 10 minutes away via boat. Martinez joined Assistant Chief Joseph Dilley as crew on the fire boat as MacLean took the helm.

Capt. Aaron MacLean and Lt. Esmeralda Martinez (along with Assistant Chief Joseph Dilley, not pictured)​ rescued two boys sailing in the Puget Sound on May 18.

When they arrived, the crew found that the boys’ boat was taking on water, which the boys were bailing out with their sail.

MacLean needed to get close to the boys’ sailboat safely, taking into account that the SCC’s fire boat design makes it trickier to steer in the wind.

“The problem that I was fighting the most was being able to maneuver close to them, with the same problems they were having of winds coming from the south and tides going to the south… we got about 15 feet or so (away from the sailboat) and were able to throw them a rope,” he said.

The SCC fire boat was low enough to the water that the boys were able to walk on the ramp, and Dilley was able to get the tow line attached to the sailboat. Martinez assessed the boys and made sure they weren’t injured; both of them just seemed exhausted from paddling.

While Martinez reassured the boys, MacLean steered the boat to the same dock the boys launched from in Longbranch, lightly beaching both boats and allowing the boys to walk off the ramp.

For Martinez, the rescue was “just another day on the job … it just felt like a normal call, just something that we would naturally do.”

MacLean echoed that thought.

“It’s not only part of the job, but that’s why we train, that’s why we try do as much public outreach as we can just to keep people safe. That’s why we’re here; that’s why I do what I do, is to help.”

While the boys they rescued were wearing life vests, MacLean wanted to remind everyone of the importance for boaters to wear life vests properly, and to check the weather before getting out on the water.

(Story by Suzie Ovel)