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Friendly Fire

By Bob Gross, Times Herald

Article originally published in the Port Huron Times Herald on Sunday, July 27, 2008

You won't notice them -- hopefully -- but Dave Westrick wants to give a shout out to a group of volunteers that makes the boat races in St. Clair possible.

"They all volunteer their time here for the weekend," Westrick said.

And what they get out of it is a free breakfast, he said.

Westrick is the fire chief in St. Clair. In addition to the 26 members of his department, about 70 personnel from seven other fire departments and two emergency medical services units will be working the boat
races and St. Clair Riverfest, which started Friday and continue through today.

Jeff Bohm of the Blue Water Offshore Racing Association, the group sponsoring the boat races, said the event would not be possible without the volunteers from other fire departments and EMS units.

"They handle the medical tent for us on land," he said. "They are very involved in the race itself.

HELPING HANDS: Mike Westrick, a firefighter from the Port Huron Fire Department, unloads golf carts on Thursday at the St. Clair Fire Department. Westrick, son of Dave Westrick in St. Clair, is one of several area volunteers who helped to stage St. Clair stage Riverfest this weekend. (By BOB GROSS, Times Herald)

"They do the fire inspections for the vendors. They play a very, very critical role for the whole event."

Westrick said firefighters have been involved in the boat races since they started 14 years ago.

"Some of the things we do is we take care of all the rescues on the water," he said.

That includes divers on standby to help free a driver from a cockpit if needed, as well as medics, he said.

"We actually start on Saturday and will work 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.," Westrick said.

"Today, they go from 10 a.m. until the boat races are over."

Westrick echoed Bohm's belief that the St. Clair Fire Department could not handle the job without the help of the volunteers from other departments.

"It's an impossible task without the volunteers we're getting to help us," he said. "Just today, we're looking at 70 volunteers, plus our 26 members here."

In addition to St. Clair, departments from Algonac, Harsens Island, New Baltimore and Clay Township will be on hand with rescue boats, he said.

Many of the fire departments in the area help each other during big events such as the boat races, Westrick said.

"For Jobbie Nooner, we went down to Harsens Island," he said. "We go help other departments, definitely."

In addition to race-related issues the firefighters handle, Bill Yost of the
St. Clair department inspects carnival rides for Riverfest "to make sure it's safe for everybody to go on," Westrick said.

Westrick is responsible for what happens on land during the event, while Assistant Chief Mike Krul is in charge of what happens on the water.

"He does a lot of work that nobody knows about," Westrick said.

He said he appreciates the hard work that members of his department and the volunteers do to make sure the boat races are safe and that spectators have fun.

"I don't think people realize how much manpower and resources it takes to pull this off," Westrick said.

Contact Bob Gross at (810) 989-6259 or bxgross@gannett.com.