The Miami-Dade Firefighters Union is calling the response to a three-boat collision on July 4 that killed four people and injured eight more inadequate, blaming budget cuts for sidelining fireboats in 2011.
“Arrogance, ignorance and professional jealousies all need to be put to the side. We need to get these boats back in service. So when this happens again tomorrow, another father is not standing here like I am,”Jack Garcia, whose son Andrew died in the crash, told CBS Miami.
Garcia, a retired Miami-Dade firefighter, had been a vocal critic of the fireboats being taken out of service in the first place. Now he is calling for their reinstatement.
He explained why he and the father of Victoria (Tori) Dempsey felt the need to go out on their own boat to look for their missing children after they said other agencies stopped searching. Garcia and Victoria’s father found her in the water Friday night, telling Channel 7 News that her body was still warm.
“I know our guys weren’t there, there was no effective search going on, and I didn’t want to wait two or three days for my son’s body to float up because I’ve been involved in that before and I wanted to do everything possible to bring closure,”Garcia said on Monday.
There were reports that boat crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which was the lead agency investigating the accident, suspended their search during the night. Only the Coast Guard, which had deployed one small boat, was still in Biscayne Bay, according to CBS.
As Garcia looked out on the water he knew exactly what he had to do. He went home and brought his own boat to the dock. Before sunrise he launched, along with two off duty Miami-Dade firefighters. Joining them on the boat was the father, brother and sister of the other missing boater, Tori Dempsey.
“I got there and my boy and the other girl were still out there,” Garcia said. “I know our guys weren’t there, there was no effective search going on, and I didn’t want to wait two or three days for my son’s body to float up.”
Garcia had been critical when negotiations failed to reinstate the fireboats last year.
“If somebody out there needs help, they’re not going to get it and they’re gonna die,”Garcia told CBS last year. “And it’s not going to be brought up and they are just going to say they would have died, anyway, or we don’t have that service.”
Miami Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey said that none of the other agencies—Coast Guard, city of Miami, or FWC— asked Miami-Dade for help other than sending the fire rescue helicopter to transport some of the wounded.Downey said no one at the county knew there were people still missing in the water until after 3 a.m. Saturday.
The union on Monday said the Coast Guard did not request Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s help until hours after the incident, but added that they couldn’t have properly responded without their fireboats. Union leaders argued that more could have been done to save the four who died if the county’s fireboat was operational.
Downey said it would cost the county about $2.5 million to put the fireboats back in service, but the fire department doesn’t have the money to do it.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CBS that the union had refused to negotiate with city officials, making it impossible to put the fireboats back in service.
“Unfortunately, the firefighters union blocked the restoring of the fireboats service,”the mayor said in a statement. “When we proposed that for efficiency and cost-saving measures, fire rescue personnel staffed at PortMiami be cross-utilized to operate the boats, the union refused, insisting that a unit solely dedicated to the fireboat be used instead.”