MAYVILLE - A federal grant secured in 2010 to purchase and maintain an emergency rescue and patrol boat has paid huge dividends to Chautauqua County.
The 32-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat was purchased through the federal Stonegarden Grant and utilized by the Chautauqua County Water Emergency Team. The sheriff's office applied for the grant last year.
"It's been extremely useful," said Capt. Darryle Braley of the sheriff's office, who oversees the emergency water team. "We use it for training details, patrols and rescue operations."
During the Fourth of July week, and other busy holiday weekends, the boat is used in high-traffic areas along Lake Erie. Aside from emergency rescue situations, the inflatable craft is used in border and shoreline patrols, as well as joint operations with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and other agencies.
"There are border security details for the craft," Braley said, noting that the grant - which will be funded through 2013 - requires operational readiness throughout the county.
Operation Stonegarden, according to Sheriff Joe Gerace, is a multi-year grant program to "enhance law enforcement preparedness and operational readiness" along borders of the U.S. Funds must be used to increase capabilities of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and establish a coordinated border security strategy.
And at no cost to taxpayers, the boat has proven its worth in the county.
Asked how useful the boat has been while in service, Braley said, "It's been extremely useful. We have at least one fellow who is alive thanks to our quick response with the boat."
The captain said in its first year on the water last summer, the boat was summoned to at least two water rescues, one of which, however, ended up being fatal.
"We put it in areas (during the summer) where there is a likelihood of a rescue," he said. "We have used it as a rescue tool which helps because we can get to the scene fast."
The boat, during the summer season, is kept in Dunkirk Harbor; when not in season, the craft is kept stored on a trailer and used when called upon, including winter rescues.
"It won't go out on the lake in the winter but it's extremely seaworthy," Braley said. "But during the winter, sometimes Lake Erie doesn't freeze until late in the season. It's been great for us."
On Sunday, the county water emergency team responded with local fire departments to Lake Erie near Barcelona when two groups of kayakers became troubled. According to police reports, four individuals were involved in the incident - three in the kayaks and one person who attempted to help.
Although the new rescue boat was not active in the rescue, Braley said the craft did respond.