Melbourne Beach improves water access for faster rescues

On Feb. 25, Joachim Lowe, a visitor from Plymouth Indiana, struggled to get himself out of a current in the ocean by Ocean Park. Once he made it to shore, he felt faint and called for medical service. When Brevard County EMS arrived, the ambulance parked in the lot at Ocean Park and took a stretcher onto the beach.

According to Detective Sgt. Melanie Griswold, the EMTs transported Loew to Holmes Regional Medical Center for treatment. If the incident happened this weekend, the EMTs could have driven through a new expanded gate onto the beach at the end of Ocean Avenue adjacent to the park and gotten to Lowe more quickly.

The gate, expected to be completed this week, comes courtesy of Melbourne Beach Volunteer Fire Department, which oversaw construction. The city is also repairing the 6th Street boat ramp damaged by Matthew to enable the fire department to better launch river rescues.

Deputy Fire Chief, Gavin Brown, said the gate, financed by $3,000 in volunteer fund-raising, will allow easier access for emergency vehicles onto the beach, which in turn helps speed up rescues.

“The old gate was too narrow,” he said. Access also involved coming in at an angle, which made entry onto the beach more difficult and time-consuming. The narrow width made it harder to bring along an all-terrain vehicle.

“It took longer than we would have liked,” Brown said. “You had to position it perfectly. Now it’s an easy transition on and off the beach.”

It’s also easier to maneuver around turtle nesting sites.

The gate is composed of custom-made welded aluminum, which not only won’t rust, but won’t break if people climb on it.

“We hired a contractor to clear the area after receiving permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Brown said.

After obstructing trees and bushes were removed, volunteers planted 500 sea oats on the dunes around the gate.

Melbourne Beach Town Manager Tim Day said the town is picking up the cost of $600 and providing the labor to rebuild the adjacent fencing.

The gate project has been on the books for a few years but given the sea turtle nesting season and the restrictions it entails, the narrow window of opportunity precluded getting it done. Brown said this year the project came right down to the wire.

With lifeguards not on duty in Melbourne Beach full time until late spring, the fire department plays a crucial role in ocean rescues. “Even if lifeguards are on duty, we still get called down to assist them,” Brown said. “We work together and train with them. They also call us for extra equipment.”

The town also donated the money to repair the boat ramp, which is not only used by the fire department for rescues, but also by boaters.

“They are fixing it up and make it look nice,” Brown said.

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