Approximately two miles off the southeastern coast of Connecticut, there’s a small island called Fishers Island. Though part of the town of Southold on Long Island, Fishers Island is accessible by ferry from Connecticut and via the Long Island Sound by experienced boaters.
Home to less than a few hundred people year round, Fishers Island swells to a few thousand folks during summer months. Jane Ahrens, editor of the island’s newsletter, The Fog Horn (https://fishersisland.net/), says that the basic needs of residents and visitors such as a post office, supermarket, and gas station, are all present. However, there’s no hospital, so what happens when someone needs urgent medical care? It’s Sea Stretcher to the rescue!
“Imagine an ambulance, but on the water,” says Ahrens, and that’s the perfect description. The 42-foot Duffy boat, certified by New York as a medical transport vehicle specifically designed for Fishers Island as an ambulance, can accommodate two stretchers for patients inside the cabin.
Last year, the Sea Stretcher crew made 44 ambulance runs (along with responses to fires and non-critical medical calls). There’s a crew member with advanced emergency medical training and others with medical training. Captains and navigators, all volunteers with extensive experience, rotate duties regularly. All Sea Stretcher and fire department volunteers are employed in fields as diverse as teaching, property management, carpentry, and non-profits. No matter the business or enterprise, one thing unites helpers on Fishers Island.
“The understanding of most employers on the island is that this is an island necessity and volunteers are permitted to leave work to respond to 911 calls,” says Ahrens.
Once in the Sea Stretcher, patients are usually brought to the U.S. Coast Guard dock in New London, Connecticut, and then transported by a land ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. A Sea Stretcher transport takes about 20 minutes, whereas a ferry ride would take 45 minutes. When every minute counts, that’s a big difference.
Helping Sea Stretcher to maintain its mission is a community effort. Lincoln White, general manager of Fishers Island Yacht Club, considers his relationship with the men and women that run the Sea Stretcher as most important. “We work together as a team,” he says. “They’re a vital part of this island.”
The emotion in White’s voice when he spoke to me about the importance of the work of Sea Stretcher’s crew came through, especially as he acknowledged their involvement in saving lives. Along with Ahrens and the rest of the Fishers Island community, White shares in the civic pride of the special and valuable vessel that is Sea Stretcher.
“When you live here, you see people you know going in as patients,” White says of his small island community. “We all know each other. It’s not easy, but it makes you work harder to help ensure that they get the care they need.”
According to Ahrens, Sea Stretcher is funded solely by donations. Fishers Island residents and businesses hold fundraisers, including an annual Memorial Day run, to help the Sea Stretcher stay afloat.
Photo Credit: JTAhrens