New beach patrol vehicle arrive at Bill Baggs State Park to better assist visitors in an emergency

In 2016 a visitor to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island in Palm Beach got caught up in a rip current and did not survive. Although they were already unresponsive, by the time emergency personnel came on the scene to help, it took 38 minutes to get the trauma victim from the beach to the hospital transportation vehicle.

Park Manager David Dearth thought they could do better.

“In my mind we could do better for emergency dune crossings so I requested funding from the state, bought a vehicle from Honda, and we built it from there.”

Their new beach rescue patrol vehicle has been used effectively since it was acquired in 2018 and response time average is now 12 minutes from the beach to the rescue truck.

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park Manager David Dearth

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park Manager David Dearth demonstrates to KBFD staff how to give CPR in the new beach rescue vehicle.

Bill Baggs State Park is the second Florida Park to receive the Honda Four Wheel Drive Jeep specifically designed to expedite assistance and transportation of park visitors or beach goers in need of emergency help and evacuation.

A group of KBFD staff recently met at the park shop behind the administrative offices to get an orientation and demonstration on how to best use the equipment by MacArthur Park Manager Dearth.

Assistant Park Manager Lu Dodson (far left), Park Manager Art Yerian (front right

Assistant Park Manager Lu Dodson (far left), Park Manager Art Yerian (front right) and staff get oriented on emergency vehicle protocol.

“The park purchased the beach rescue vehicle and it has been at the welders for the last month,” said Bill Baggs State Park Manager Art Yerian who has offered the use of the vehicle to Key Biscayne and Miami Dade Fire Rescue.

“The all-wheel drive will prevent it from getting stuck, even on sugary sand like our beaches at MacArthur,” said Dearth while about 15 paramedics and firefighters hovered in a circle around the new acquisition listening attentively.

Bill Baggs new rescue vehicle

It is a two seater jeep with a bright yellow body board in the back where there is also room for another emergency technician to help the patient as they lay flat. Rescue attempt efforts can be made while the vehicle is in motion as demonstrated by Dearth.

Bill Baggs State Park new rescue vehicle.jpeg

The vehicle comes with a no tilt safety device and pins in place to hold the body board steady. A specially designed harness will keep the paramedic from jostling around while providing life-saving aid in speeds that can go up to 45 MPH.

Total cost of the new emergency ride was about $18,000.

“Our leadership in Tallahassee approved the purchase and the Friends of Cape Florida supplemented the additional costs,” said Bill Baggs Park Manager Yerian.

He said the initial cost for the vehicle was $12,920 and approved by safety officer for the Department of Environmental Protection, Jeff Loflin. The additional fees for lights, the body board, and motion secure attachment features was $5000 and The Friends of Cape Florida funded those costs.

On the four occasions the vehicle at MacArthur Beach State Park was needed, it was twice due to beach goers getting caught in rip currents. One evacuation was to save a life in jeopardy due to heat exhaustion.

Another incident when the new hybrid emergency transport earned its keep was when a swimmer got stung by a jellyfish and needed to get to warm water and emergency medical care immediately.

“Each case was different, but all four times we had positive results for the visitor at the end of the day,” said Dearth.

Both Dearth and Yerian credit a close partnership with local fire departments to makes the investment effective and life-saving. There will be monthly drills at Bill Baggs with KBFD personnel to make sure they are always on top of best practices possible.

“If this vehicle can save one person, it will all be worth doing the drills and covering the time and expense. No matter what the situation is…a heart attack, near drowning, anything, we will be able to now increase the response time when every minute counts,” said Yerian.

“Park Manager Art Yerian from Bill Baggs State Park has been an incredible partner to Key Biscayne Fire Rescue. Mr. Yerian and his staff have assisted us with training, and when actual emergencies have occurred in the State Park. The staff has been a tremendous asset in changing the outcomes of emergencies for victims. When a patient is located on the beach or on the waters adjacent to the park, it can take more time to transport them to our rescue trucks for treatment and transport to the hospital.

KBFD Chief Eric Lang

The State Park now has a helpful tool to speed up responses to these areas in the park that we can’t get our units to. The 4 x 4 is staged in a state of readiness to transport patients on the beach or on the trails in the park. The cart is equipped to carry a patient secured to a backboard from the beach to a pre-determined location we select for patient transfer to our rescue truck. Key Biscayne Fire Rescue has conducted training with the 4 x 4 which is accessible 24/7.

The idea is simple but it takes leadership, dedicated funding, and execution to make a difference and Art Yerian found the perfect combination in making this resource available to serving the needs of the community and visitors to Bill Baggs State Park. Without questions, the job of our responding firefighter-paramedics has been made more efficient thanks to Art Yerian’s leadership.”

---Key Biscayne Fire Chief, Eric Lang

 Beach Safety Tips:

Be Safe while at the Beach with these safety tips
  • Pay close attention to the colors of the beach flag flying on the day you go to the park. They will warn you of rip currents or dangerous marine life in the area.
  • The purple flag for instance will advise if rangers have spotted sharks in the area.
  • Keep an eye on the weather and get a forecast for the day before heading out, and especially during this time of year, watch for quick changes in the skies and lightning approaching from the horizon.
  • Research the details on what to do if caught in a rip current or tide such as swimming parallel to shore.