A spokesman for the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department said Wednesday department boats routinely patrol the Potomac River, especially on days with higher than normal traffic.
Elisa Escalante, an aspiring firefighter, died during a patrol July 4 after she was ejected from OWL’s 22-foot Boston Whaler.
The boat Escalante and volunteer firefighters Stuart Young, 24, and Roger Donais, 35, were riding in hit a boundary marker at 11:40 p.m., according to police reports
Rick DuFlocq, spokesman for the department, said he didn’t know where the boat had been before the accident that killed the Woodbridge woman.
DuFlocq said the boat never ventured far from Prince William’s shores that night, and was definitely not at the fireworks show. Antonio Escalante, the woman’s father, believes, based on a cell-phone call from his daughter, that the boat may have been at the fireworks in Washington, D.C.
Donais has a broken pelvis and head injuries. Young’s wrist was broken.
The craft was patrolling on what is one of the busiest boating days of the year, DuFlocq said. The firefighters were on their way back to shore when the boat hit the marker that separates Virginia and Maryland off Freestone Point, where Neabsco Creek meets the river.
No determination has been made about how fast the boat was traveling. The accident is under investigation by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Prince William County police.
A massive hole was ripped in its hull.
DuFlocq said it is standard practice to patrol, and OWL boats have gone as far as Washington, D.C., about an hour’s boat ride from Leesylvania State Park.
“What better place to be than on the water?” DuFlocq said. “It’s not like at the firehouse where we sit there and wait and go.”
On Saturday, DuFlocq said the boat was patrolling the Potomac River to fulfill a responsibility to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
But Council spokeswoman Jeanne Saddler said she was unaware of any patrol responsibilities the OWL fire department had on Friday. Local fire agencies are charged under the Potomac River Rescue Agreement with responding only when called out to specific emergencies, she said.
Lt. Michael Gimmel of the Potomac Heights Volunteer Fire Department said he expects Virginia fire departments to patrol the river on major holidays like July 4. Potomac Heights is in Charles County, Md., on the eastern bank of the Potomac opposite Prince William. Maryland has jurisdiction over the river.
“That’s a day we try to stay out until 11 or close to midnight,” Gimmel said.
OWL has another larger rescue boat that was available to respond to any local emergencies, DuFlocq said, when asked about the 22-foot Boston Whaler’s charge to cover the river in Prince William and southern Fairfax County.
Escalante, who was in training to be a volunteer firefighter, was on the boat as a ride-along. Non-members are required to fill out a form and have it signed by a duty officer the first time they go with the department, DuFlocq said. He was unsure Wednesday whether she had ever filled out a form. Sometimes the papers are brought on the ride-along, he said.
Escalante had been out on call with Donais and Young five or six times, her father said.
Young and Escalante worked together at a private ambulance service, DuFlocq said. Her father said he saw Young talking to his daughter on a number of separate occasions, but never met the firefighter.