When Ralph Chamberlin and his fellow firefighters headquartered in downtown Madison were called to help a swimmer in distress on Lake Mendota in the early 1980s, they watched helplessly as the man struggled. Lacking the proper equipment to get to him, the team ultimately witnessed his drowning.
Chamberlin knew something must be done.
Emboldened to establish a team that would be available to respond to water emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Engine crew at Station 1 set out to form the City’s first-ever Lake Rescue Team.
Identifying necessary resources and equipment was just the first step. The team also needed to train itself on diving and rescue techniques, and develop standard protocols.
Chamberlin was already a dive master when the Lake Rescue Team was formed. He went on to become a PADI instructor in the year following the Team’s inception.
33 years later, the Madison Fire Department’s Lake Rescue Team has honed and advanced its response capabilities thanks to improved training and technology, but the fundamentals remain the same.
“Chamberlin had a vision for the safety of the community that, coupled with his excellent leadership, built a foundation for the team,” said Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis. “The City of Madison and surrounding communities still benefit from his work to this day, and we are grateful to honor such a tremendous leader.”
On Tuesday, July 5, the Madison Common Council unanimously approved a resolution naming the MFD's new Lake Rescue Boat “The Ralph E. Chamberlin II.” A formal dedication ceremony will be held Saturday, July 9.
Lake Rescue Boat Dedication
Saturday, July 9, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
Olin Park Boat Launch
Pictured above (front to back): Ralph Chamberlin with the MFD Lake Rescue Team C shift (Robert Kuhl, Thomas Schaller, Jeffery Vogen, David Trainor, Angelo Beasley), Fire Chief Steven Davis, and Division Chief of Special Operations Tim Mrowiec