On the last day of the spring session of the Junior Shipmates Program — a unique educational organization that blends special Olympics athletes and able-bodied children together to learn life lessons through boating — the topic at hand was boat safety.

The Shipmates were out on the new Los Angeles County Fireboat #110 just past the breakwater in Marina del Rey, where engineer Jim Navarro and County firefighter Billy Bowden were giving a discussion about proper boating conduct and safety when a 30-foot Avanti powerboat that they happened to be next to started to call out for help.

“All of a sudden we saw people in a boat waving ñ with smoke coming out of it,” said Junior Shipmates program director Sherry Barone. “Billy the firefighter quickly boarded the boat and put the fire out with his fire extinguisher.”

The engine in the powerboat had caught fire and apparently the boat wasn’t equipped with a fire extinguisher.

The three distressed but otherwise unharmed passengers were most fortunate to have had the accident happen while right next to a fireboat and once Bowden extinguished the flames, the Marina del Rey Lifeguards towed the boat back into the Marina.

“The kids couldn’t believe that they were actually a part of this,” Barone said of the coincidence. “At the time we were talking about how accidents can happen and how you have to be prepared — the importance of wearing life jackets, etc.”

The happenstance, while somewhat disastrous for the boat owner, was quite appropriate for the Junior Shipmates.

They ended their spring session with an unscheduled demonstration of a real life situation that illustrated the topic of the day perfectly.

“It was a good lesson on the water,” Barone said. “Their adrenaline was pumped up and they really learned a hands-on lesson about boat safety.”

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