It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally the Washington Island Fire Department calls for mutual aid, and the Washington Island Ferry – always on call for emergencies – responds.
That call went out around 8:30 am on Jan. 3, with the Madonna ferrying 16 crew members and equipment from four mainland fire departments – Baileys Harbor, Ephraim, Jacksonport and Sister Bay/Liberty Grove – to assist with a single-family home fire on the island. According to local officials, no one was harmed, and only moderate damage had been done to the home by the time the mutual-aid crews caught the 1 pm ferry back to the peninsula, thanks to the smart firefighting decisions made by Washington Island Fire Chief Peter Nehlsen.
Hoyt Purinton, president of the Washington Island Ferry Line, said the ferries are on automatic call from dispatch for a variety of emergencies, but there’s been fewer than a handful during the past decade or so for fires.
Timing can be everything, especially in the winter when the ferry line doesn’t always have five boats all warmed up and crews available and ready to go. As it turned out on Tuesday, demand was pretty light and the weather not so bad that it slowed what’s already about 45 minutes to the dock.
“The weather cooperated for us,” Purinton said.
He said the island community’s gratitude is strong for the assistance the fire departments sent, leaving their own communities temporarily more vulnerable, not to mention their jobs.
“The majority of these guys have day jobs they’re dropping to assist our communities,” he said.