Government Chips In $800,000 for New $1 Million Ambulance Boat

Officials are hoping to secure enough funding to have a new emergency boat contsructed before the Star of Life, above, stops running for good.

The Star of Life is in critical condition, but the people of St. John now have hope that a new ambulance boat will be in service before the old emergency vessel makes its last run.

The August bill sent to the V.I. Legislature by Governor John deJongh reprogramming government funds included $800,000 to go toward the purchase of a brand new ambulance boat.

The move by deJongh came nine months after the governor appointed local musician Steve Simon to spearhead a private fundraising effort to obtain an ambulance boat. The private funds may still be used to aid in the purchase, or to maintain the new boat when necessary.

“We did have an active fundraising program on the island, and while I haven’t received a tally of how much was raised, we had some major pledges,” said St. John EMS Association President Carol Beckowitz. “However, in light of the downward spiral the economy has taken, some of those pledges may not be made good. No final decision has been made on whether the money raised will be used toward the construction of the new boat, or keeping the money as a repair fund.”

Beckowitz and the EMS Association are grateful to the community for its support and will put the donated money to “good use,” she explained.

In addition to the $800,000 and the private funds, the V.I. Department of Health has located additional funding for a new boat, Beckowitz added.

Boat Design by EMS Assoc.
The new ambulance boat will be constructed based on a design drawn up by the EMS Association in 2004.

“We had that design because there was a commitment on the part of the government to move forward with the building of a new boat,” said Beckowitz. “We’re using the same design and schematics, and we’re in the process of identifying a builder.”

The overall cost of constructing a brand new ambulance boat for St. John will approach $1 million, Beckowitz added.

The St. John EMS Association was excited to learn that a new ambulance boat may be just on the horizon for Love City, the association president explained.
“It’s fabulous news and we were very pleased to hear it,” said Beckowitz. “Initially, we kept hearing the government had no money. Then all of a sudden the appropriation came through — that’s a good sign.”

The government funding could not have come at a better time, as the Star of Life has been on its last legs for a while now. The boat is becoming less and less safe to use for transporting patients to St. Thomas when they require a level of care that can not be provided at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, according to Beckowitz.

Boat In Critical Condition
“The Star of Life is in pretty critical condition,” Beckowitz said. “It’s in desperate need of a haulout, it needs some keel work done on it, it needs a new exhaust and we’ve recently had some steering problems with it. We’ve replaced four starter motors in the past 12 to 16 months, and we had a recent engine compartment flooding due to some parts breaking loose.”

“All I can say as the president of the association is that we keep our immediate management within the EMS division apprised of all the problems with the Star of Life,” she added. “They are aware of the need for immediacy in going to contract for this new boat.”

Beckowitz was unsure how long it will take for the government funds to be released and the new ambulance boat to be constructed.

“The association is in regular contact with the commissioner’s office urging them to move forward,” she said. “Every day we delay, we put patients at risk, as well as EMTs and the boat crew. Our goal is just to make this happen as quickly as possible.”