The Cedar Fire Department responded to a sixty-five-year-old man’s cries for help off shore about 1:00 a.m. last Thursday morning.
“We searched for an hour. We finally spotted him. He was paddling off the Big Dock. He was able to come to shore on his own power,” said Fire Chief Robert Robinson.
Robert Bullis and his dog arrived safely on shore. He declined medical treatment. “He was exhausted. I think the dog was happier to see the ground than he was,” Robinson said.
The rescue search marked the first time that the fire department deployed Marine 75 which was purchased last November. “Like all of our equipment we hope we never have to use it,” Robinson said when the new boat arrived.
But when the time came to deploy the rescue boat, the fire department was able to have it manned and in the water rapidly. “From a dead sleep at home in bed, to the boat being underway with three personnel on board and other firefighter personnel on shore, was under nine minutes.”
CK firefights have been training extensively the past several months to prepare for such an event, Robinson said. Training has included an online course and intensive hands-on instruction and practice.
The distressed boater was on the water more than 8 hours before making it back to shore. Robinson said that the current was too strong.” After midnight, it’s hard to get back.” Two other kayakers from the man’s group returned before dark but failed to report that Bullis, whose address is listed as Trenton, hadn’t returned.
A call came into the Cedar Key Police Department at 12:42 a.m. Three minutes later officer Mike Cosseboom verified that someone was calling for help from the water south to southwest of the Big Dock. He requested that the fire department respond with their rescue boat, according to the police report.
Cedar Key resident and Fire Dept. member Kenny McCain, who is also a Fish and Wildlife employee, deployed his personal airboat to help with the search. He was joined by another Fish and Wildlife employee who was visiting the island.
The Coast Guard arrived by land after Bullis was on shore, according to Robinson.
The dark night as well as good Samaritans combined to make the search difficult. “Its hard to see in the dark out there. People on shore were yelling, trying to help but it was distracting for the rescuers,” Robinson said.
The fire chief encourages anyone on the water to carry a signal device, such as a whistle, for emergencies. “It doesn’t matter what you’re in, you need a signal device.”
He also says that shoreline bystanders should remain quiet during a rescue operation because “The sound goes out and echoes. Once emergency personnel is deployed, please don’t keep yelling if your not the one in trouble. It confuses everybody.”