May 30, 2007
On The Waterfront: County Marine Patrol Launches New Season
There's an otherworldly feel on the water. Morning haze blurs the line between water and sky. It's already hot at 10 a.m., and just a few boats dot the bay in Southampton near the Shinnecock Canal. The patrol boat's nearly silent engine adds to the ethereal feel as we skim across the glass. It's quiet. But last Saturday morning members of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department Marine Patrol knew the quiet wouldn't last long. It's Memorial Day weekend and the summer boating season has begun.
Sgt. John Andrejack, who helms the marine unit, described the team's craft as it pulled away from the dock at the Shinnecock Canal County Marina in Southampton. Purchased with asset forfeiture funds – that's money taken from drug dealers – the patrol boat landed in Shinnecock in 2003. Fitted with twin 200 horsepower Honda four stroke engines, the 28-footer is a rigid hull inflatable that can do over 50 on the water. It's fully equipped with radar, GPS and night vision gear for ops at night and in limited visibility conditions. A multi-band radio system keeps officers in contact with the Sheriff's Department as well as the Coast Guard.
The boat accommodates a full complement of firefighting and emergency medical gear – a defibrillator, oxygen tanks, backboards, burn kits – and the unit is well trained in their use. Each member of the unit is a certified Emergency Medical Technician. Some are advanced EMTs.
A dozen deputy sheriffs work under Sgt. Andrejack. During the season, they rotate to the marine patrol from other commands. Earning a spot on the team means lots of training. Every member of the patrol studies for weeks with the New York State Marine Patrol, spending hours and days upstate on the Finger Lakes. From there, they return to Long Island for courses in inlet navigation and ocean navigation with the Coast Guard.
"We have an excellent, excellent relationship with the Coast Guard," said Deputy Sheriff Marco Calise, who crewed Saturday's patrol with Deputy Sheriff Kathy Teller. Just recently the CG brought a chopper over from Cape Cod and team members participated in training focused on rescuing distressed swimmers from the air. Marine education continues with courses in marine law enforcement, navigation law and boating while intoxicated detection.
"Sheriff Vincent De Marco is very tough on BWI," Andrejack emphasized. The team also includes members trained in special weapons as part of their Homeland Security mission. The unit patrols potential terrorist target Plum Island, plus the ferries and the oil terminal off the North Fork.
Marine patrol personnel are also certified public scuba divers. They train in completely self-contained dry suits and are able to communicate to the surface, tethered to the boat. "We talk to them while they're underwater," Andrejack, himself a divemaster, explained. One of the officers on the squad boasts the highest class of certification and is capable of offering instruction to local volunteer fire department scuba teams.
Committed to sharing his staff's expertise with the public, this year Sheriff De Marco instituted New York State Safe Boating instruction through the patrol. Upon completion of the class, students meet the requirements for Jet Ski operation and kids over 10 can receive their certification to operate boats.
The unit first launched from its centrally located base in Shinnecock in 2003. The unit patrols 348 miles of coastline, covering the five towns of the East End. Last year they ran 411 patrols and successfully handled 18 search and rescue calls, two boating accidents, and 10 medical emergencies. With boating safety a priority, the team conducted over 120 boat safety inspections, and enforced navigation law, including issuing BWI summonses in close to 130 incidents.
In furtherance of their public safety mission, the unit implements De Marco's "Loaner for Life" life jacket program. When the crew comes upon a vessel and learns there aren't sufficient life jackets for all on board, they'll lend jackets to the boaters. They don't get to keep the gear for life, Andrejack clarified; they use them to save lives. "They bring them back to us later," he said.
In 90 percent of all boating-related drownings, the victim was not wearing a life jacket. Current law requires all children under 12 wear life jackets at all times when a boat is under way. The exception? When a child is in an enclosed cabin, where he or she could be trapped. Each craft must have enough jackets for all passengers, they must be in serviceable condition and readily accessible. Team members wear high tech jackets that are a far cry from the bulky orange vests of yesteryear. The gear is fitted with a "pill" that dissolves in water and automatically inflates the flotation device once a crewmember goes overboard.
This is Teller's fifth year patrolling East End waters. A resident of Westhampton, she confessed she never spent much time boating before she landed the assignment with the patrol. In four summers she's learned the waterways and manned the wheel during Saturday's patrol. By contrast, Calise has spent his life on the water, growing up in Mattituck. This is his first season with the patrol. Andrejack is a 15-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department. He was selected to head the unit when it was formed because of his maritime background. He worked in marine construction and coincidentally, helped with the rebuilding of the Shinnecock Canal years ago.
Now, he's back on the canal, with a decidedly different focus. Rather than building new bulkheads, he's into maintenance – maintaining the safety of those who use East End waterways. With their heavy focus on public safety, one might even dub the members of Sheriff DeMarco's marine patrol . . . ahem, "life preservers."