The St. John ambulance boat Star of Life, which has been on its last legs for several years, may finally get the replacement it so desperately needs.
Governor John deJongh announced last week that St. Croix company Gold Coast Yachts has been contracted to build a new ambulance boat.
The construction of the boat, whose cost is expected to be around $700,000, will be funded with money appropriated by deJongh in August 2008. The new ambulance boat could be in service as soon as four to six months after the contract is executed, according to V.I. Department of Health spokesperson Eunice Bedminster.
Design of the new boat will probably be based on plans drawn up by the St. John EMS Association in 2004. The new vessel will feature a 45- to 55-foot catamaran hull design, ensuring stability and the capability to both handle large loads and work in many different weather conditions.
It will be able to transport four to six stretchers, and will accommodate a crew of five.
The process of acquiring a new ambulance boat was kicked off in December 2009, when a U.S. Coast Guard consultant traveled to Delaware and New York with representatives from the V.I. Department of Health — including St. John ambulance boat captain Liston Sprauve — and St. John Administrator Leona Smith, to observe emergency vessels in action.
“I am pleased that at long last we will have in place a maritime vehicle that is fast and durable and will put the St. John community at ease,” deJongh said in a press release issued by Government House. “We wanted a vehicle that could serve the dual purpose of assisting in marine emergencies as well as serve as an ambulance boat.”
“We were very meticulous with design details, even bringing in a highly recommended consultant from the U.S. Coast Guard to assist in this endeavor,” said the governor.
Gold Coast Yachts, which was contracted to build the new boat, has been in business on St. Croix since 1985.
The Star of Life, which was donated to the Department of Health following a 1991 seizure, can only accommodate two patients.
The aging vessel is currently in dry dock for maintenance and repairs, and a private water taxi company has been contracted to provide water ambulance services for the past several weeks.
The Star of Life will be used as a backup when the new ambulance boat is put into service, according to Bedminster.
Department of Health Commissioner Julia Sheen was excited to learn of the progress being made toward a new St. John ambulance boat, she explained.
“I am pleased that we’re closer to an acquisition because of what a new ambulance boat will mean for residents,” said Sheen. “It will not only provide for improved and more efficient response times, but safer rescue operations, better maneuverability, access to shallow bays and areas of the St. John coastline.”
The Star of Life has faced numerous issues, and even when operating has been in “critical condition” for a long time, St. John EMS Association president Carol Beckowitz previously told St. John Tradewinds.
“Every day we delay, we put patients at risk, as well as EMTs and the boat crew,” said Beckowitz. “Our goal is just to make this happen as quickly as possible.”