The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company serves a community surrounded by water — the Atlantic Ocean mere blocks to the east of its main firehouse, the Indian River Bay to the west, and canals and creeks in between.
So it’s not unusual for the fire company to have to respond to calls that bring its volunteers either into the water or alongside it.
A few years ago, the fire company purchased personal watercraft in hopes they would aid response to water incidents. They quickly learned, however, that “It was very hard to deploy the Jet-Skis off the beach,” said BBVFC Deputy Chief Shane Truitt.
Eventually the fire company looked into purchasing something that would allow easier water and waterside access, as well as usable in flooding conditions — which are common in downtown Bethany Beach and surrounding areas, particularly during and after coastal storms.
The fire company contacted state Sen. Gerald R. Hocker Jr., as well as state Rep. Ronald Gray, to see if state funding was available for such a vehicle. It turns out, there was funding available through the state Community Transportation Fund.
There was only one catch — the request had to come through a municipality, not the fire company itself.
“We had to have a municipality support us,” Truitt said.
Enter the Town of South Bethany, or more specifically, Town Manager Maureen Hartman.
“It was very easy,” Hartman said of the approval process for the purchase of the Argo Aurora 950, a utility vehicle with a price tag of about $37,000. The approval process took about two weeks.
The purchase, Truitt said, “will make our responses quicker and safer,” in tricky terrain. The vehicle can be used “amphibiously,” or on land as well as in the water, according to the manufacturer’s website. “We can actually put it in the bay,” Truitt said.
It looks like a big souped-up golf cart, with eight heavy-duty 29-inch tires.
The vehicle, Fire Chief Brian Martin said, is the “last piece of the puzzle” of the fire company’s recent efforts to broaden its capability to respond to water-related incidents, whether it be rescuing hunters stuck in a marshy duck blind or residents marooned in a home by floodwaters.
“We felt we weren’t really in a good position” to respond to those types of situations before the purchase of the Argo, Martin said. Now, he said, “There’s no rescue we wouldn’t be able to handle on a daily basis or in the event of a storm.”
With the purchase of the Argo, he said, came training in its use in different situations. Now, about 15 paid and volunteer members of the fire company have been certified in swiftwater rescue. Only one other fire company in Delaware has been similarly certified, and no others in Sussex County, Martin said.
The fire company received the Argo on March 19 and completed the training during the summer. Already, the Bethany Beach crew has used the Argo to assist in a search for missing swimmers off Bowers Beach.
Gray said he and Hocker were happy to help the fire company with the purchase.
“I think there’s a need,” he said.
Hartman, South Bethany town manager, said the Town was happy to serve as a “pass-through” for the vehicle funding.
“Hopefully, we’ll never need it, but we felt it was an area we were lacking in and we wanted to get up to speed on,” Martin said.