Spaghetti for a Waterwog

Staff Report

    Wilmington’s Emergency Services and Disaster Agency volunteers are raising funds to buy a tool that can ensure their safety in a water rescue and maybe save a life or two.
    ESDA is holding a fundraiser spaghetti dinner this weekend to purchase an inflatable boat, but it’s not just any ol’ tube. It has a funny name — a Waterwog Rescue Craft — but it’s unique design by Creature Craft gives it the moxy to stand up to the Kankakee River at the Wilmington dam when it’s at its angriest.
    Last July, rescuers from ESDA and the Wilmington Fire Protection District were unable to save Elizabeth Larson, 35, of Normal, who fell out of a raft as it went over the dam. She was caught in the roller of turbulent water below the structure.
    ESDA’s flat bottom boat was pushed into the boil while rescuers tried to get a rope to Larson. The men holding the boat steady were in fast water up to their chests.
    Although they risked their own safety, they couldn’t reach Larson, and she lost her fight with the river. None of the equipment the rescue agencies have, not the flatbottom or the   nor the Rapid Deployment Craft called the banana boat are effective beyond the boil line of the dam.
    The loss hit the rescuers hard, and they vowed to do better. In September, ESDA and fire district personnel tested the Waterwog, an inflatable that can be rolled back upright, even from a seated position. The craft sits high in the water, which makes it maneuverable even in rapids. And it’s light enough that four people can carry it down to the shoreline and launch it — no boat launch is needed.
    ESDA director Dennis Housman believes the inflatable is worth the $20,000 price tag just to ensure the safety of the ESDA staff, who are all volunteers.
    “There haven’t been very many things that are safe to go up into that dam,” he said, noting that nothing is 100 percent safe in that situation, but the Waterwog is as close as any of the agency’s equipment could come, and can be used in high water conditions, unlike the Liferamp and banana boat.
    While Housman recognizes that the Waterwog won’t put an end to the drownings, he knows it will be a valuable tool in ESDA’s arsenal if it saves one life and keeps the rescuers from being in jeopardy.
    It will also be useful for other high water rescue activities.
    The City Council budget for ESDA is limited, and relies on transfers of available funds the corporate kitty. So the volunteers are trying to help the city by raising the purchase price of the Waterwog on their own.
    ESDA volunteers will serve spaghetti on Saturday, Jan. 27, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Moose Lodge, 32050 W. River Road. Dinner, which includes spaghetti, salad and bread, is $8 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and children under 12.
    The Lodge donated the use of the hall, which will be open to the public for the fundraiser.
    The Wilmington Fire Protection District is also purchasing a Waterwog for its swift water rescue team.