Huntington Fire Rescue Boat, Transport on Wing and Prayer; Vancouver Solved Problem with Grants, Donations
Locating a favorable grant brings personnel, equipment, and assists in preparedness shifting from a reactive response to proactive preparation.
Case in point --- the Huntington Fire Department has an inadequate rescue boat. It’s not simply too small to carry necessary rescuers and equipment, but it’s not physically big enough to withstand high lapping waves that occur after storms and when the Ohio River’s current is swift.
More than 20 years old and pulled to river’s edge by an aging truck, the rescue is the first to hit the shore within a first responder critical time frame. Under ideal conditions, the vessel and a crew of firefighters trained for river rescue quickly rush to a recreational river use accident (jet skier down, man overboard), a bridge jumper, or a commercial vessel experiencing propulsion trouble.
“We’re on a wing and a prayer,” explained Capt. Jeff Sheets. Still, like every other "crisis" circumstance faced by HFD, "I've never seen the firefighters not put 110% forward," explained Sheets who joined the department eighteen years ago.
Firefighters built the current boat to rescue specs and they received numerous donations from marina related facilities to assist.
“it’s better than what we had, but not what we should have,” Sheets said. “There’s no cabin, so you can’t spend an extended time out there in inclement weather. There are suits that keep you warmer, but not completely,” he said referring to the bitter , wet and windy winter just endured.
Due to the pitfalls of boat and truck, the response time is shortened. Stored at the central station, not on the water, a fire department officer must determine whether water conditions are safe to launch the boat. This can lead to necessary delays for safety precautions, which cut into the critical response period.
One of the tough decisions --- is this a rescue or a recovery operation?
While a still living person struggling in the waters would normally mandate launch, conditions could occur that might impair a timely decision.
"We had a situation in which a gentleman working at the marina went missing while the river was high and swift. We had difficulty launching our boat and the U.S. Coast Guard won't launch in over three knots," Sheets explained.
Further, the proximity of airports nearby envision the prospect of the Rescue on the Hudson incident in New York City where a passenger plane ditched in the river and all survived. Huntington , as now equipped, would not be able to properly handle a mass rescue of similar nature.
"It's a lot better to ditch in the river than the trees. They would have a fighting chance at survival." But, if a DC 9, the same type plane that ditched on the Hudson River, did so in Huntington, "It would have been hodge podge" with barges, tugs and skiffs. "There would have been no organization."
Another worst case scenario would be a fire, collision or sinking with people in the water of a tourist attraction such as the Delta Queen or Cincinnati Queen.
"We want to do that. Now, we have virtually nothing," Sheets explained. "We would have to rely on a barge company," noting the current vessel lack radar and fog sonar. No other rescue exists between Gallipolis and the Greenup Locks.
The Port of Vancouver experienced similar dilemmas. More river traffic in the port, the potential for a fire that could be best put out from a floating apparatus, and the ability to quickly react in the event of a commercial aircraft plunging into the water in a ditch similar to New York’s Miracle on the Hudson.
Tom Coval, Vancouver’s fire captain said in a published interview “we have a bucket and a fire extinguisher,” referring to their $500 boat that had been declared surplus by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Lacking municipal funds, they turned to the grant process, which involved broadening the “port” concept and co-operating with the Coast Guard. After years of planning and dreaming, Vancouver city council approved in 2012 acceptance of a nearly three million dollar grant of which the "matching" requirement had been waived. The grant came from the Federal Emergency Management as part of the Port Security program.
Vancouver's Fire Chief Joe Molina told council that maintenance and operations for the quick response vehicle would be more than double the city's cost for the current boat. To defray costs, 80 community partners pledged $380,000 over a decade including one business that offered $10,000 over ten years,
"We want to plan for the worst and hope for the best," Molina said, stressing he did not want money from the general fund.
(See, http://www.columbian.com/news/2012/dec/02/new-fire-boat-to-the-rescue, council passed acceptance of the grant.)
Currently, due to the lack of grants and the D.C. belt tightening, the HFD does not have the same option as Vancouver, although they had in the past talked to Rep. Nick Rahall about a transportation grant or legislation for the cities of Ashland, Huntington and Ironton.
For the immediate future, HFD recognizes that Mayor Steve Williams would have to come on board. That's not expected due to the squeezed funds. However, the department does hope for a commitment years down the road. "It's the right thing to do," Sheets said.