With Private Funds, St. John May Get New Ambulance Boat After All

The aging ambulance vessel “Star of Life,” above, might be replaced with private funding. St. John Tradewinds News Photo by Eliza Magro

Just weeks after a V.I. Legislature bill to appropriate $700,000 for a new ambulance boat was held in committee due to a lack of funding, new hope for an ambulance boat for St. John has emerged thanks to a private effort spearheaded by local musician Steve Simon.

Simon recently met with Governor John deJongh on St. John to express his desire to help acquire a new Star of Life — to be dubbed the Star of Life II — for the island.

“Our need for a replacement to the Star of Life is not sunk,” said Simon. “Last week, the governor appointed me to head up an effort to create a private/public partnership to obtain an ambulance boat. I have already received commitments from the private sector of our island in excess of $300,000 and I am still in the process of soliciting private financial support.”

New Boat Within Four to Six Months
Working with the private sector has been a hallmark of the deJongh administration, evident in projects like St. John Pretty and the effort to renovate the Frank Powell Park.

If Simon’s effort continues to move forward, the local musician estimates St. John could have a new ambulance boat within four to six months. Simon’s motivation for helping to acquire a new Star of Life came from his own experience with the ambulance boat, he explained.

“The fact that my wife was a passenger on that boat a couple of years ago, as many of our friends have been over the years, I recognized the important role that the Star of Life plays in the quality of life on St. John,” said Simon. “Many of us on St. John are cognizant of the fact that the boat’s best days are behind it, and it’s not cost effective to put more money into keeping it afloat. Knowing that our government is struggling to make ends meet on a lot of levels, a few of us started discussing creating a private effort to obtain funding to replace the boat.”

No Government Funds Needed
Simon approached the governor with his idea that a new ambulance boat could be purchased without any government funds, and deJongh gave him the green light to go ahead with the effort. The local musician has already collaborated with St. John Rescue chief John Bowman, and will meet with the Emergency Medical Services Association after Thanksgiving to make sure all their needs are met.

With private funding, Simon plans to buy a used boat and retrofit it with all the necessary medical equipment and hardware, he explained.

“I am in the process of pricing out various vessels that would meet our needs,” said Simon. “I sincerely believe that we will be able to acquire a replacement for the Star of Life without any government funding.”

The Star of Life , which has been used by the V.I. Department of Health for the transport of patients from St. John to St. Thomas for 16 years, is in need of major maintenance. Both residents and EMTs have recently called for a new, safer ambulance boat.