Allatoona boat fire causes man to swim nearly a mile
by Amanda Ryker
May 30, 2012 | 2897 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County firefighters complete extinguishing a boat fire around noon Tuesday on Lake Allatoona. The boat eventually drifted into this cove where it was moved near the bank to be towed. One person was on board and swam to an opposite bank and suffered minor burns. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County firefighters complete extinguishing a boat fire around noon Tuesday on Lake Allatoona. The boat eventually drifted into this cove where it was moved near the bank to be towed. One person was on board and swam to an opposite bank and suffered minor burns. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Tuesday began calmly following a busy Memorial Day for Bartow's first responders when a fire erupted, consuming a boat on Lake Allatoona around noon. One man was on board and was able to swim close to the opposite bank before onlookers assisted him on the remaining part of his journey to safety. Distressed, 911 was called and Emergency Medical Services paramedics arrived to treat the man for difficulty breathing and minor burns to his knees.

Before the flames grew out of control, the victim attempted to suppress the fire with an extinguisher on board. State law requires fire extinguishers to be on all boats.

"It's state law that they have a fire extinguisher in the boat but in a situation like this one where there's some type of explosion or anything like that -- get off the boat," Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap said. "Just get away from the situation because it can quickly get out of hand. It's a requirement for operators to have that extinguisher but it doesn't do you any good if it's locked up in one of the boxes on the boat or stuck somewhere. It's gotta be readily available because it's gonna be split-second usage."

The fire department responded, extinguishing the flames on the boat only to have them flare again as fuel that had leaked onto the water blazed. Two of the department's newly purchased response boats arrived and gained control over the situation.

Meanwhile, EMS treated the boater for difficulty breathing after his long swim. To combat losing energy, one of Cartersville's Parks and Recreation Department's pool managers, Hillary Harris, offered a few ways to stay above water until help arrives.

"A distressed swimmer should lay on their back and try to float," Harris said. "[The victim] could have done a side stroke -- it doesn't exert a lot of energy."

Other swimming techniques a distressed swimmer could use include a breast stroke kick, which would not require a lot of energy but Harris said the best thing to do is float and always wear a life jacket.

"You should wear a life jacket every time you get in the water," Harris said. "It doesn't matter [how good of a swimmer you are], you should always have one on when you get in the lake."

Issues and distress on the lake can come from means other than swimming.

"Never dive into the lake," Harris said. "You can't see through the water. It's really murky [and] there could be a limb or a tree that has fallen and you could hit your neck."

When situations arise that cause some form of negative issue for boaters or swimmers, staying calm can save a life.

"Mainly, if you're in distress and you're caught in the water, try to stay calm because once your heart rate gets up it's really hard to calm yourself down and you can go into a panic attack," Harris said. "So it's really good to stay calm and try to float as long as possible and if you see someone try to call for help."

To avoid any potential problems that could occur with a boat, Millsap recommends having the boat regularly serviced before summertime use and checking for any issues that could become severe.

"A boat is one of those things you don't use it on a day-in-day-out basis and boats can set up over the winter and problems can develop and you won't know anything about them until you're out there on the water," Millsap said. "Fuel lines can get brittle or a little pin hole leak [can appear]. Little things like that make it an accident waiting to happen. A lot of it is knowing. People who are first-time boat owners [need to understand] there's a lot of hazards out there and that's the nature of the business unfortunately."