The Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services insists that the CNMI has the resources to effectively conduct rescue missions, and criticisms of how it does that will not meet everyone’s standards.
Speaking at the budget hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee at the Legislature, DFEMS Commissioner Dennis Mendiola assured last Thursday that DFEMS has the resources to capably carry out rescue missions like the case of Honorio Encabo, who was swept out to sea last July 5 and remains lost. “The resources are there. It’s just never to anyone’s standard for that matter. We’ve got two boats, we’ve got…10 to 15 guys doing search and rescue but, of course, we’ve got a large water that we have to cover and, unless I’m allowed to deploy the entire department—but I don’t think that will help the situation and, in fact, it will be more of a risk for me because now there’s more people that I have to be concerned about in the water,” he said.
However, in Encabo’s case, Mendiola said DFEMS sent out four to seven men to join the Department of Public Safety in the search and rescue because both of their rescue boats are currently down.
“Currently we have our rescue divers mobilized in conjunction with DPS because that’s all we can mobilize at the moment. We have a rescue boat and a fire boat that are both down. One has battery issues that requires us to order batteries from off island and then our fire boat, the entire steering is shot, so we’re waiting for funds…to fix that. But we are working with DPS. Our guys are currently deployed to do the rescue mission. I have around four to seven guys, depending on whether they’re doing land, surface, or underwater search,” he said.
Mendiola said the department has been doing a good job in carrying out search and rescue missions, specifically the diving part of the mission. “As far as I’m concerned, we have professionals doing the job and they’re doing a great job at it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but the guys are doing everything they can to find this missing person. I don’t think anybody in the department, Department of Public Safety, or DFEMS for that matter, is trying to shortchange the family in regards to our capabilities,” he said.
As of Thursday last week, Encabo remains missing, with only his torn swimwear being found by diver Harry Blalock as the search and rescue neared its 72-hour mark. According to DPS protocol, the search for a person missing at sea will be called off after 72-hours of searching.
“DPS is taking the lead. Our guys are doing the rescue diving part…The way it works is that our drivers get dropped off, they do the dive while DPS is doing their search around the perimeter and making sure that they keep in contact with our guys and not lose them so we don’t have other rescue issues because we don’t have a boat. We don’t have those capabilities,” Mendiola said.