Students Saving Lives: Speaks With the Coordinator of EC-SAR

Dec 10, 2010

There is no other program quite like the Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team (EC-SAR) in the U.S. EC-SAR students learn invaluable skills while saving the lives and property of Tampa Bay boaters. recently spoke with Ryan Dilkey, current director of EC-SAR, about this unique student group and how it contributes to the community both inside and outside the school.

By Megan Driscoll

Eckerd College Search and Rescue Teams Please tell our readers what the Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team does.

Ryan Dilkey: The Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team (EC-SAR) is one of the most unique co-curricular programs available to full-time, degree-seeking Eckerd students. It cannot be experienced at any other educational institution in the U.S.! Working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, 911 Emergency Medical Response and other state and local agencies, the team provides maritime assistance to the boaters of Tampa Bay. Students are trained in technical rescue, boating safety, seamanship, searching, fire fighting, de-watering, navigation, medical response and even piloting rescue vessels.

Receiving more than 500 calls each year, EC-SAR responds to virtually any sort of distress, disaster or problem imaginable. Under the direction of professionally trained staff members, students coordinate the utilization of four rescue boats and an operations/communications center to save lives and property on a daily basis. How did EC-SAR get started?

RD: The team was founded in 1971 in an effort to provide safety services for the college's watersports activities. In 1977, EC-SAR extended its rescue services to the Tampa Bay boating community. EC-SAR received its first test of international proportions when the team was one of the first rescue units to respond to the Skyway Bridge disaster in May of 1980. The program has since grown to become one of the most respected search and rescue organizations on the west coast of Florida. Can you tell us about your own educational and professional background, and how you became the coordinator of EC-SAR?

RD: I began with the program in 1994 as a student. I completed four years of service with EC-SAR, then enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserves in 1998. After a handful of post 9/11 deployments, I was commissioned as a Reserve Officer and currently serve as a Reserve Lieutenant in Florida. I returned to EC-SAR as the coordinator in 2006. How many students are usually involved in EC-SAR at one time? Is there a 'typical' EC-SAR student in terms of academic major or educational background?

RD: Approximate 30-60 students serve on the team throughout the year. We orient our new members each August and begin the rigorous training program. As a liberal arts college, Eckerd students have a wide range of degree pursuits. There is no 'typical' major for an EC-SAR student. What skills do students acquire when they participate in EC-SAR?

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RD: The technical skills include marlinespike, seamanship, towing, anchoring, firefighting and de-watering, search patterns, charting, piloting and vessel handling. In addition, students learn radio communications, interagency procedures, leadership, team building and personnel management. The team is as much a student development program as it is a SAR organization. Can you describe the ways in which Eckerd graduates have applied their EC-SAR experience in their careers?

RD: Many have continued in service-oriented careers such as the military, fire departments, law enforcement and emergency response. Others use the skills they learned as EC-SAR students in countless ways as responsible, trustworthy and reliable individuals. Many of the skills mastered in this program are ones that cannot be taught in a classroom. Can you tell us about your favorite or most interesting EC-SAR student story?

RD: Although there are always exciting case stories to be told, my most treasured memories are those of students who show gratitude for the effort that the instructors and staff put into them as people. Each year, I watch young men and women graduate and move on to the next stage in their lives. After getting to know them so well, and viewing them as students, professionals and friends, it's always hard to see them go. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about the work that EC-SAR does and the role that students play in the team.

RD: EC-SAR has certainly helped so many members within our community; it is hard to put any one comment on how important the team is. I know it has changed my life. I am certain it continues to change the lives of the students that participate. It is a model representative of our program mission of education through service, and a program unique to Eckerd College.

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