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Fourth of July command post huddles for 2014

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Following 2013’s successful operation of the command center at United States Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach on the Fourth of July, public safety and emergency management officials met Tuesday, May 6, to review the 2014 plan.

The organizations represented included Wrightsville Beach Police Department, Wrightsville Beach Fire Department, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue, New Hanover County Fire Department, New Hanover County EMS, New Hanover County Emergency Management, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said the plan would be similar to last year’s because the system was effective in coordinating responses and resources, and limiting the number of illegal water taxis.

The Coast Guard’s south end command center will be staffed with Wrightsville Beach fire, police and ocean rescue, and New Hanover County fire, EMS and sheriff’s officers.

Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Director Dave Baker said low tide was predicted for 7 p.m. Friday, July 4, which would coincide with the time the people without rides on Masonboro Island attempt to swim across Masonboro Inlet.

To deter the often-inebriated beachgoers from attempting the swim, House said the police department would be parking some of its vehicles on the tip of the south end.

“Before my officers get off that afternoon and when people are starting to come back we are going to take all the vehicles and put them on the south end with the lights going,” House said. “So we are hoping with all our boats in the water and the vehicles there they will have the forethought to not swim over.”

Wrightsville Beach Fire Department Captain Robert Pugh and Baker said those stranded on the island have even called the department asking for a ride back but that both organizations are reluctant to pick the swimmers up.

“If it looks bad and we do pick them up we just take them back to Masonboro,” Baker said. “A lot of them jump in thinking they will be rescued and brought back to Wrightsville Beach but we take them back there.”

Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith also said the organizations should not forget about the growing number of boaters traveling to Masons Inlet on the Fourth of July.

Due to the increasing shallowness of Masons Inlet, Baker said the ocean rescue Jet Ski is often used to respond to incidents on the south end of Figure Eight Island although the area is outside its jurisdiction.

Although the New Hanover County Fire Department will have a boat patrolling the area, county fire chief Matt Davis said calls from the south end of Figure Eight Island and Masons Inlet would have to be dealt with individually.

“There are some areas up there where you can get in over your head really fast, even with a boat, so we will just have to take it on a call-by-call basis,” Davis said.

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