NEAVITT — Mid-Shore watermen and community members are rallying around a Kennedyville man who recently lost his work boat in a Wednesday, Jan. 20, fire at the public wharf in Neavitt.
Jeff Baker, 56, of Kennedyville, has been a professional waterman since he was 18. Baker tongs for oysters during the winter and trotlines for crabs in the Chester River during the summer. His work boat was named Jennifer Lynn, after his daughter.
St. Michaels Fire Department Chief Sean Guschke said firefighters were dispatched at 7:43 a.m. Jan. 20, to the public wharf in Neavitt, for reports of a working fire on a work boat.
Guschke said the fire primarily was on the 29-foot work boat, Jennifer Lynn, and the vessel was fully engulfed in flames when the fire department arrived at the scene. Boats around Jennifer Lynn were moved to avoid the flames, he said.
Guschke said the fire department worked for an hour and a half to control the blaze, which he believed to have originated in the bilge. He said the Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Company assisted during the fire and the Oxford Volunteer Fire Company was on standby at the St. Michaels Fire Department.
Baker drove from Kennedyville each morning to his boat, which he docked during oyster season in Neavitt.
Baker said he arrived at the wharf at 7 a.m. Jan. 20, and started his boat up. He said there was some ice cover in the water that morning and it was cold, so he decided to wait until the sun came up before he headed out on the Chesapeake Bay.
He said the next thing he saw were flames in his boat and he tried to put them out with his fire extinguisher. Other watermen docked at the wharf also assisted by using their fire extinguishers to try to put the fire out.
Baker said he and the watermen helping him were forced to suspend their efforts as the fire engulfed his boat. He said he lost everything in the fire and estimated his financial loss to be around $35,000, which includes the equipment he had on board.
After the fire, Baker said, community members in Neavitt and local watermen helped him haul what was left of his incinerated boat out of the water.
“There was really nothing left of the boat to talk about,” Baker said.
Baker said he received minor burns to his body during the fire.
In a Thursday, Jan. 21, news release, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which investigated the fire, said there was damage to two other boats docked at the landing, as well as fire damage to portions of the dock and bulkhead.
Since the fire, two funds have been established to help Baker buy a new work boat and get back to work on the Bay.
Baker said his brother, Junior Baker, set up a GoFundMe account, and Pat Jones, treasurer of Talbot Watermen’s Association Inc., said the association set up the Jeff Baker Fund at Talbot Bank and Centreville National Bank.
The Jeff Baker Fund is available for anyone who wishes to donate to Baker, which will help him buy a new work boat and equipment. Jones said the idea was inspired by two local watermen who also dock at the landing, Larry Jones and Ed Crouch.
According to Bunky Chance, president of Talbot Watermen’s Association Inc., in addition to setting up the fund, the association will donate $500 to Baker to help him get back out on the water.
“Jeff is a valued member of the watermen’s community,” Chance said. “Any time a professional watermen, somewhere on this Bay, has a problem, we all have a problem. Regardless of where they’re from, we try to help.”
Baker said the Talbot Watermen’s Association has treated him like a member of the local watermen’s community.
“They’ll do everything in the world to help you,” Baker said.
Despite losing his work boat, which earned him a living, Baker said he is grateful the fire did not do more damage.
“I got off the boat with my life,” Baker said. “Boats can be replaced, but lives can’t.”
To make a donation to the Jeff Baker Fund, call The Talbot Bank at 410-822-1400 or Centreville National Bank at 410-758-1600.