PORTAGE | Sharon Gordon, of Burns Harbor, stood on the stern of Portage Fire Department’s new rescue boat on Saturday morning and gracefully broke a bottle of champagne to christen the craft, named for her brother-in-law, into the emergency fleet.
The Samuel E. Malarek, or Marine 1, a 36-foot lake assault fire rescue boat, was put into commission at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk and is named for a former member of the Portage Fire Department who served for nearly two decades before a work injury forced him to retire.
Malarek died in 1991, but family members were present at the ceremony, including his son, Lt. Mark Malarek, who followed in his father's footsteps.
“My dad took a lot of pride in Portage. Even after he retired he came down to the station all of the time. If he wasn’t there, he was out here fishing in Lake Michigan. As I see it, my dad is now able to continue his career because through this boat he is still out there protecting the town of Portage,” Mark Malarek said.
Along with former Mayor Olga Velazquez, council members Sue Lynch and Matt Scheuer, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, attended and spoke about the cooperation behind the boat’s purchase, which was funded through a $298,460 U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency port security grant.
Fire Chief Tom Fieffer said that the boat will be an essential part of his fleet.
“There have been 33 deaths in Lake Michigan this year alone, which is a 109 percent increase over this time last year. This boat is a great resource to fighting that statistic,” said Fieffer.
Tom Colvin, leader of the Portage Fire Department dive team, said the boat “will allow us to be closer to incidents, to rescue victims, to detect with sonar and radar, and for better investigations.”
He said the 12-member team already has spent “countless hours” training with the vessel.
Mayor James Snyder said Portage is grateful for the boat.
“Because of this boat, we hope to hear of more heroic rescues than tragic loss of life,” Snyder said.