By Stephen Lee
The drowning death on Saturday in Lake Oahe of Fort Pierre fishing guide Karl Palmer was in the background Tuesday for two items on the agenda of the Pierre City Commission.
Palmer, 50, was guiding a client on the west shore of the lake about 25 miles northwest of Fort Pierre when he swam out to retrieve his boat and didn’t make it.
The tri-county water rescue team operated by the Pierre Fire Department put both its boats in the water and a diver, to recover Palmer’s body in about 29 feet of water, Fire Chief Ian Paul told the Capital Journal Tuesday.
He and the five city commissioners mentioned Palmer’s death as part of the reason for the need to buy a new boat, or a “fire rescue water apparatus,” to replace the aged “big yellow boat,” that is nearly 20 years old.
The new Ranger rescue boat will have a lower profile and more weight, so it will operate better in the high winds which often are a part of Lake Oahe, Paul said.
Nothing in the way of a new boat or other equipment would have made a difference Saturday in Palmer’s case because he was so far up the lake and so long in the water before rescue teams got to the scene, Paul said.
But newer and better technology on and in the new boat will improve the way divers can operate from it, he said.
The Commission approved his request to accept the lower of two bids and he will purchase a new boat from Pierre Sports Center for $77,429. The bid, from Dan O’s Marine in Pierre, was for $81,968.
After the new boat, to be delivered in July, is outfitted with radio and diving equipment and other accessories, the total cost will be higher but still well below the earlier estimated $100,000, Paul said.
He operates the emergency land/water rescue team for Hughes and Stanley counties, and the cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre; Sully County also chips in for land recovery and rescue services, Paul said.
Where Palmer was fishing and where he died is off the shore in Stanley County.
The five local governments each chip in according to their populations. Paul said the fund had about $270,000 in it before the Commission approved buying the new boat.
The “big yellow boat,” will go back to the state, since it was purchased using a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard, Paul said.
At Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Mayor Laurie Gill proclaimed it National Public Safety Telecommunications Week and praised Cindy Gross, manager of the consolidated 911 dispatch center in Pierre.
Gross took over the new center with the job of combining city, county and state agencies using the same 911 center. “We know it’s more work with multiple jurisdictions and you have handled it very well.”
The importance of the 911 center’s work was highlighted Saturday when the call came in about 10:40 a.m. that Palmer had gone under the waters of Lake Oahe, Commissioner Jamie Huizenga said.
“It’s not easy work.”
Gross said the Center dispatches for sheriff’s offices in Hughes, Stanley, Sully, Hyde and Jones counties, and for Highway Patrol troopers in 18 counties and other local agencies. “So we keep busy,” Gross said.
She’s short two people now, with 12 dispatchers and her own slot, and one part-timer, Gross said.
The consolidated 911 center is a model of sorts for other 911 centers in the state and even nationwide, as South Dakota as a whole is ahead of the curve in adopting the latest communications technology to 911 centers, Gross said.