County of Marin - News Releases - Water Rescue Program

For Immediate Release
June 08, 2015

Water Rescue Program Celebrates a Milestone

In its first year, 25 people have been rescued off Marin coast

Woodacre, CA – In response to an increasing number of ocean and bay rescues in West Marin, the Marin County Fire Department (MCFD) continues to train its personnel as part of a grant-funded water rescue program marking its one-year anniversary in June 2015.

To date, 25 people have been recovered in the areas of Tomales Bay and Dillon Beach.

Two firefighters sit aboard personal watercraft that are used for rough-water rescues."This program was developed from the ground up,” MCFD Chief Jason Weber said. “I'm very proud of the firefighters who recognized a critical need, developed a plan, sought out grant funds and saw this to fruition. This program is probably the most significant operational service improvement our department has made in more than 10 years."

Approximately 225 personnel from MCFD and partnering agencies have received training through the program, which uses six rescue watercraft and other equipment purchased with funds from a $68,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant.

In January 2013, the department formed a task force to develop a solution to meet the changing needs of the residents and visitors of Marin County. Although it has participated in a multiagency Water Rescue Team for nearly 18 years, MCFD recognized a need to increase the level of training and acquire equipment to address the challenges.

The task force, headed by Battalion Chief Chris Martinelli, discovered that from 2004 to 2013, 20 percent of all search and rescues within the county were water-based, but they accounted for 75 percent of the search and rescue fatalities. It recommended new guidelines for a coastal response plan that would guide the many agencies involved in coastal and inland emergency incidents. The plan promotes common command practices, response areas and communications so appropriate resources can be deployed in the most efficient manner.

The program has resulted in enhanced and more efficient responses to emergencies such as search and rescue, surf rescue, river and flood rescue, oil spill response, and law enforcement support operations. Water rescue personnel have met and trained regularly with first responders throughout the region, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and other partnering agencies.

MCFD Deputy Chief Mark Brown said he’d prefer not to depict the program as something extra. “Our overall vision is that water rescue becomes another core service that we provide in the same way we provide EMS, fire suppression and technical rescue,” he said.

The Marin coast might be one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it can be dangerous as well. Residents and international visitors flock to the Pacific coast for recreation every day of the year because of its jaw-dropping beauty, sandy beaches, sheer 800-foot high cliffs, and proximity to the water. Boating, surfing, fishing, scuba diving, swimming, competitive sailing and other activities are popular but can be drastically affected by quickly changing winds, swells, currents, visibility and water temperatures.

“That can create severe hazards to people who are unprepared, unfamiliar or inattentive,” said Battalion Chief Mike Giannini, MCFD’s Emergency Medical Services Coordinator. “With so many people attracted to the ocean and coastal bays, it is inevitable they’ll be put at risk and require emergency intervention. That’s why we’re so pleased to have this water rescue program in place.”

Video footage taken by MCFD firefighters during training is posted on our Marin County YouTube site.


Mike Giannini
Battalion Chief
Marin County Fire Department

33 Castle Rock Ave.
Woodacre, CA 94973
(415) 473-2595
Email: Mike Giannini
Marin County Fire website