Rescue boat dedicated in Tenakee Springs

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2008

Five years later, the murder of Maggie Wigen still haunts Tenakee Springs. Now her memory may be invoked in the rescue of others.

Courtesy Of Gordon Chew
Courtesy Of Gordon Chew

Tenakee Springs residents dedicated the community's new firefighting and ambulance boat Saturday. Its name: The Maggie's Wake.

"We're trying to have something positive out of something as horrific as a young girl's murder," said Gordon Chew, who organized the effort to get the boat. "It was a huge motivational factor."

In 2003, the Chichagof Island community of about 100 people had no search-and-rescue team. Wigen's disappearance sparked a diligent search, and she was found in a fresh grave after several days. Ultimately, that search turned out to be the impetus for Tenakee Springs residents to organize a search-and-rescue team, Chew said.

The small, isolated community has always struggled with emergency response. A few years ago it lost its 911 system, lacking people to operate it, Chew said. The community has no EMTs - emergency medical technicians have to be recertified regularly, and that requires leaving Tenakee Springs for classes.

Without a hospital, people must be evacuated for medical care. Helicopters have taken out two people this year, Chew said.

The new 25-foot landing craft boat will be Tenakee Springs' ambulance. It has a bench in the cabin for a patient litter.

It's also a firefighting machine, with a pump welded into it, that may halve Tenakee Springs firefighters' response time, Chew said.

Until now, Tenakee Springs' firefighters have been using a 1980 Chevrolet truck that holds 300 gallons of water. Firefighters have been hauling a pump and all the associated equipment down the beach to get to house-saving saltwater.

The majority of the boat's cost was paid by the Southeast Regional Emergency Medical Services, with help from state and local government.

Coincidentally, the idea for the boat came to the Tenakee Springs firefighters who were training in Juneau the same day Wigen died, Chew said. That is partly why her name graces its sides now.

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