Fire Marshal honored for environmental protection

Gig Harbor Fire Marshal Dick Bower was honored yesterday for efforts that shielded Gig Harbor from most of the impact of thousands of gallons of oil and fuel from a marina fire last summer.

Bower’s initiative kept oil and oily debris from spreading outside the marina and saved more than $1 million in likely cleanup costs, according to estimates from the Spills Program of the state Department of Ecology. The agency’s director, Jay Manning, will present the agency’s Environmental Excellence Award to Bower at yesterday’s Gig Harbor City Council meeting.

Early this year, in the wake of a significant oil spill in Dalco Passage in October 2004, Bower recognized that Gig Harbor had little in the way of spill response resources and would have to rely on outside assistance in the event of a spill in nearby waters.

To address that, Bower worked with the city’s stormwater manager to purchase 600 feet of oil containment boom. Then he approached Ecology, which funded the purchase of a trailer, anchors, ropes and buoys through a Coastal Protection Fund Grant and assisted with a boom deployment training exercise involving the Gig Harbor Community Development Department and the Police Department’s Marine Services Unit. Lastly, Bower updated the city’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to address spills and coordination among Ecology, Pierce County Fire District #5, the Police Department, the Community Development Department, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

His efforts paid off dramatically in August, when an early morning marina fire destroyed 50 large boats and released several thousand gallons of fuel and oil into the harbor. One of the first notifications was to the Community Development Department to bring the boom trailer to the boat launch. The Police Department’s Marine Services Unit deployed the boom within 30 minutes of the 911 call.

The boom proved all the more vital because, at that hour, the morning tide was going out. If the fuel, oil and oil-soaked debris from the boats and marina hadn’t been quickly contained by boom, it would have swept through Gig Harbor and into the Tacoma Narrows and Puget Sound.

The resulting spread of oil and oily debris would have posed a greater threat to shorelines, fish and shore life and made the fuel and oil more difficult to recover.

The Environmental Excellence Award is Ecology’s highest award for recognizing efforts to protect the land, water, air, wildlife and public health in Washington State.