Norwalk Marine Unit prepares for a busy summer on the Long Island Sound


NORWALK — In recent weeks, the city’s marinas have filled with yachts, personal fishing boats and speedboats.

For Lt. Scott Rywolt, a veteran Norwalk firefighter who helps lead the department’s Marine Unit, the growing fleet means only one thing: an upcoming increase in recreation on Long Island Sound.

“I expect a busy year,” Rywolt said. “Fuel prices are high, so I might be a little off that, but everyone now has their boat in the water.”

The marine unit, which operates a pair of boats that are no different from floating fire trucks, is tasked with responding to medical, rescue, fire and hazmat calls in Norwalk Harbor and along the Long city ​​coastline.

With the summer season fast approaching and record high temperatures expected this weekend, the unit’s specially trained firefighters have spent the past few weeks preparing to rescue distressed blazes and put out any fires that may set off on one of the city’s more than two dozen islands.

“We are here to save lives, protect property and preserve the Sound,” Rywolt said.

To that end, Rywolt said he spent several weeks coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard and nearby municipal officials for increased activity on the water this summer.

He’s also taught CPR classes at local yacht clubs and met with the island keepers to make sure they’re on the same page in an emergency.

“We plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “We have developed our relationships with other agencies and the people we can respond to in order to make us more effective.”

For Rywolt, managing the day-to-day operations of the marine unit is less a job than a passion. The 20-year-old veteran, along with a team of navigators, has spent thousands and thousands of hours mastering the art of water rescue and firefighting at sea.

The unit operates two lifeboats: a 24-foot privateer and a 38-foot vessel powered by a twin-diesel jet engine that can travel up to 35 nautical miles per hour, or knots.

The larger craft, named after the late firefighter Robert L. Bedell, can hold up to 300 gallons of fuel and can pump 2,000 gallons of water per minute from a series of mounted, remote-controlled turrets.

“New York fireboats deliver something like 50,000 gallons of water. But we don’t have skyscrapers over water. So for our purposes, it’s more than enough,” Rywolt said.

Many of the Marine Unit’s emergency calls are for boats that have run aground and become stuck in shallow parts of the harbour. But sometimes firefighters are called to more poignant scenes.

In 2020, for example, the two fire boats were deployed to extinguish a fire that engulfed a 33ft yacht following an explosion. The explosion threw six people into the water, but all were saved from the incident.

Rywolt speaks with pride when he talks about daring rescues. He is particularly proud of the time a firefighter swam more than 150 meters in a wetsuit to rescue a victim the fireboat could not reach safely.

There are also lighter and more enjoyable moments on the water. For example, crews were treated to a surprise a few years ago when several humpback whales appeared off the coast.

“Some people pay money to do what we do,” Rywolt said. “We get paid to do it.”

The marine unit is made up of firefighters assigned to the Van Zant Street station, the oldest in the city. When water-related calls arrive, the four-member crew rushes to the nearby Veterans Memorial Park where the fireboats are moored.

If the call involves the rescue of someone in need of medical attention, firefighters will direct paramedics to wait with an ambulance just off the park or at Calf Pasture Beach.

Firefighters aren’t the only local public safety organization on the water. The Norwalk Police Department also operates its own marine unit with a pair of police boats and a jet ski.

Among other responsibilities, the police unit patrols the waterways and enforces boating and fishing violations on the strait. According to the department, the unit typically responds to about 250 calls for assistance and makes more than 100 arrests each year.

According to Harbor Master Bruce Lovallo, the town has recently received a flood of interest from boaters hoping to secure one of several hundred mooring spots in the town. But he is obliged to tell each candidate the same message: there is no more room.

“I get calls every day. People even call me from Huntington, Long Island to see if they could moor their boat at an anchorage in Norwalk,” he said.

Lovallo said he attributes the increase, in part, to a yearning for people who have felt hemmed in by the pandemic and are in desperate need of recreation. He said that interest has led to an influx of new boaters, many of whom have virtually no experience of sailing in the harbour.

“People these days just buy a boat, jump on it and get out there,” he said.

Rywolt said it encourages new boaters to complete a state-approved online safety course before getting in the water. He also said they should always remember to pack a first aid kit, warm clothes, sunscreen, a radio, fire extinguishers and a cellphone.

Most importantly, he said, boaters need to be aware of weather forecasts and familiarize themselves with the impact of changing tides on the harbour. He noted that several areas that may seem passable at low tide are actually too shallow to navigate.

“There are a lot of places where you can really lock yourself up,” he said. “I suggest that before you venture out on your own, you take someone who is experienced and knows these waters because you’re going to wreck your boat or injure yourself.”


About Author

Comments are closed.