Aaron West, The Triplicate

Search and rescue volunteers install much-needed safety features at downtown jetty

The Crescent City Jetty is finally undergoing a long-planned upgrade that aims to make search and rescue operations safer and more efficient.

Fourteen volunteer search and rescue members were out on the jetty on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. drilling concrete and repainting markers - the first step in an upgrade that's been in the making for more than a year.

"It went very smoothly," search and rescue coordinator Terry McNamara said. "No hangups at all, just a longer day than I thought it would be."

The long day consisted of drilling holes along roughly 3,400 feet of the jetty, installing stainless steel anchor bolts, repainting the distance markers on the top and side of the structure and also attaching 76 new reflectors that will make visibility easier. Then in a couple of weeks the work crew will be back to put the finishing touches on the project with several lengths of galvanized wire cable that search and rescue team members will clip onto when they're carrying out an operation.

The project, which was drawn up by county engineers Jim Barnts and Rick Lockstead and spearheaded by McNamara and County Supervisor Roger Gitlin, will give a much-needed facelift to what the situation at the jetty was before, which was a disaster waiting to happen, McNamara said. The old aluminum cable that the jetty has been equipped with hung along the side, parallel to the ocean, and was tricky and dangerous for search and rescue members to clip onto quickly.

"The existing safety line system we had out there had been compromised," McNamara said.

"Some of the anchor bolts had actually moved. At that time we had put the bolts on the side of the jetty, which meant you had to reach over the side to hook into the safety cable. You'd have to get down on your knees and look over the side of the jetty to see it."

Although there have been no botched rescue operations because of the old system, which has been in place for a little more than a decade, McNamara said he didn't want to take any chances.

The new line system, which will run along the top of the jetty, will make conducting rescues easier and safer for rescuers since they won't have to reach over the jetty's edge to attach to the line.

Additionally, the faded numbers marking every 50 feet on the jetty's harbor side and top were repainted. They help search and rescue members coordinate operations with boats. The reflectors, attached to the side of the jetty at every bolt, will also help with visibility.

"We can coordinate where we are on the jetty with the people on top of the jetty," McNamara said. "We can say, 'Hey, we see the guy we're looking for; he's over at 7andfrac12;.'"

The whole project, which McNamara estimates will end up costing between $4,000 and $4,500 when it's complete, was largely made possible by donations from community members and local businesses.

Ace Hardware donated the drills the team was using on Saturday, and a total of $750 - used to buy the bolts and ship them - was donated by the local Rotary Club, local hotel owner Bhanu Patel and attorney Don Henion.

Cables that McNamara said could cost up to $2,500 were donated by an anonymous local company, and time and labor was donated by the search and rescue team.

"We're in good shape; we'll be ready for when the winter-time storms come," McNamara said.

Reach Aaron West at awest@triplicate.com.