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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Community gets behind FC Rescue Boat effort

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In April, rescue boats and swift water rescue crews from a number of police departments and agencies came to assist when a four year old boy went missing on the South Fork of the Spring River. Now, several Fulton County organizations are working to raise funds to purchase a rescue boat and specialized equipment to help the sheriff's department better respond to water emergencies. Photo by Tammy Curtis [Order this photo]
When three-year-old Caleb Linn went missing on March 24, Fulton County Sheriff Buck Foley coordinated a massive four day search, centered in an area along the South Fork of the Spring River.

But the incident exposed a major weakness in Fulton County's law enforcement and public protection system.

While a river search was needed, the river was swollen by rain and running swiftly.

"We needed to get into that river immediately, but we had no rescue boat or crews trained in swift water rescue," Sheriff Foley told The News. "The county doesn't own a life jacket or a paddle. We had to wait for help from other counties who had river rescue equipment."

Rescue boats from Hardy and Pocahontas, along with divers from other law enforcement agencies, eventually searched the river while hundreds of volunteers searched the rugged terrain along the river and in Camp Kia Kima.

The body of the Springdale boy was recovered in the river on March 28, by volunteers who were able to use canoes since the water had gone down.

"I mentioned, during the search, that we (Fulton County) need a rescue boat, and Jerry Estes and some others have gotten together to raise funds to get one," Foley said. Estes was familar with the problem, because North Arkansas Electic employees were involved in the search for Linn, and provided food and water for volunteers.

A bank account, established at the Bank of Salem, has already collected more than $3,000 -- including a $1,000 donation from the Viola Volunteer Fire Department, and a $1,500 donation from the Gepp Volunteer Fire Department.

An e-mail distributed to community organizations by Jason Miller of FNBC said, "We are currently accepting donations (great or small). After the recent tragedy on the Spring River, with the drowning of the 4-year-old, it has become apparent this (a rescue boat) is a great need that will have many uses for the Sheriff's Department."

According to Miller, the goal is to raise $15,000, and so far about $8,000 in firm committments and another $1,000 in soft committments have been made.

A fundraiser will take place on Friday, May 25, as local businesses and fire departments sell barbecue dinners, which they will have ready for pick up at the Orange Room, beginning at 11 a.m. The dinners cost $10 a plate, and advance orders can be placed by calling Leah Rouse at 895-6239.

The dinners will also be available the night of May 25, to allow people to eat at the Orange Room prior to or during the Homecoming Festival street dance on the square.

Because of the great initial response to the idea of buying a rescue boat, Foley has contacted local fire departments, seeking volunteers willing to be trained in swift water rescue techniques.

Foley has also arranged for Marion County to train and certify three or four first responders to serve as a county dive team.

"It seems we have at least a couple of drownings or rescues each summer on the Spring River," Foley said. "This will prepare us to respond better to those emergencies."

According to the sheriff, Arkansas Game and Fish may be able to assist the county in obtaining a grant to buy a motor for the rescue boat.

A jet motor, with no prop or propellers, will be purchased to allow rescuers to take the boat over rocky shoals. The boat will be equipped with search lights, monitors and other rescue and safety equipment.

A dive school on Lake Norfork has offered to obtain diving equipment at discounted prices, and a boat trailer, tires and other equipment may be donated by local companies.

"We really appreciated all of the help we received during the search in March," Foley said. "But a boat and trained crews and divers will really help us respond to river emergencies in our area, and allow us to help other communities when the need arises," Foley said.

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