Council Considering Resolution for Firefighting Vessel FEMA Grant Application

Updated 4 years ago by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Huntington Fire Department current rescue boat
Huntington Fire Department current rescue boat
Photo by Chris Hayes

Several months ago, Huntington Fire Department Captain Jeff Sheets told HNN about the department needing a marine vessel upgrade. Their current boat has size constraints, limited or no usefulness in turbulent waters and no firefighting capabilities.

Discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard had some department members punching computer keys in a time constrained hurry.

When Mayor Steve Williams designated Carl Eastham as Fire Chief he was charged with reeving up grant applications. The resolution before Huntington City Council Monday, June 10,  authorizes submission of a grant application for a 35 foot vessel with firefighting capabilities. It’s for $750,000 and includes a trailer truck and training at Tri-State Fire Academy.

“The Port of Huntington transports more cargo and tonnage than any inland waterway in the nation”, explained Williams. Fire Chief Carl Eastham added that the future intermodal facility (in Prichard) “will increase river traffic considerably.”

Currently, the HFD has a 20 year old rescue boat pulled to the river by an aging truck. Although firefighters assisted by marine facility donations built it to rescue specifications, it’s not physically big enough to withstand high lapping waves.  There’s no cabin. Weather determines whether there is a launch.

“We’re on a wing and a prayer”, Sheets said in a March 20 article. “Still, in any other crisis circumstance, I’ve never seen the firefighters hot put 110% forward.”

Sheets noted  the department’s  water rapid response  time meet critical standards. HFD from the downtown station respond to boating accidents, bridge jumper reports, or a vessel stalled in the water.

As Chief Eastham told council members Thursday, June 7, the river cargo contains hazardous materials, such as liquefied petroleum gases. The proposed vessel would have firefighting, rescue and haz-mat capabilities. “We are going to have deployable inflatable boats to handle a catastrophic circumstance, such as an airplane ditching in the river or a sinking pleasure craft with a lot of people to bring to shore.

Mayor Williams stressed the vote only authorizes the grant application. Competition for the FEMA port security grant is on a national basis.

Eastham believes the city stands a “strong possibility” due to the lack on river fire extinguishing capabilities.

“There’s nothing until you get to Cincinnati”, he explained, adding that upstream Marietta and Charleston have the ability to extinguish a fire on the water.

Vancouver , Washington, had a $500 patrol boat for the Columbia River. Fire Captain Tom Coval called it a “bucket” and “fire extinguisher” for response to medical calls, chemical calls, and technical rescues. They applied for a Homeland Security grant with U.S. Coast Guard support. In December 2012, Vancouver’s city council voted to accept a $2.6 million dollar three quick response vehicle grant from FEMA to close safety and security gaps identified by the Coast Guard.


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