Lake watch: Beaver Creek fire boat earns ground-breaking ISO rating

By KRISTY E. RUPON, C-I news editor November 25, 2002

No one thought David Hunter and Gary Elliott could make a functioning fire boat out of a shell of a boat found in a salvage yard 10 years ago.

But the Beaver Creek Fire Department has been using that boat on Lake Wateree for the past nine years, and recently, the vessel made history as the first boat in the United States to be rated as a water source by the Insurance Services Office.

The boat is just the fourth in the United States to receive a rating from ISO, according to Kershaw County Fire Marshal Gene Faulkenberry. The difference between Kershaw County`s boat and the three others is that the Beaver Creek boat can be hooked up to a fire truck to supply water from the lake, he said, essentially making it a ``floating fire hydrant`` with an almost limitless supply of water.

Typically, a fire truck can hold about 1,000 gallons of water. ``In no time that`s gone (in a firefighting situation),`` said Hunter, chief of the Beaver Creek Fire Department. With the boat, firefighters have an endless stream of water and don`t have to keep making trips back and forth to the station to refill.

The boat received a rating of 7 from ISO. The agency rates fire departments on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the best rating and 10 meaning virtually no fire service.

Beaver Creek is currently rated at 9/10, which means 9 within five road miles of the station and 10 farther than five road miles, and it has an 8 rating for structures within 1,000 feet of a water source.

When the fire boat`s rating goes into effect Feb. 1, structures within five road miles of the Beaver Creek Fire Department and within 1,000 feet of the lake will have a 7 rating.

Faulkenberry said the new rating should lower homeowner insurance rates for several hundred households around Beaver Creek, including Lakeshore Drive, Singleton Creek and all the small side roads.

Savings for a $100,000 house are projected to be as much as $300 per year, he said. Although not all insurance companies recognize ISO ratings, many do, he added.

Kershaw County increased its millage rate this year for houses in county fire protection zones, adding roughly $8 a year in taxes for each household.

``But if you save $300 and you`re spending $8, that`s a good return for your money,`` Faulkenberry said.

`Lots of people said it couldn`t be done`

The fire boat came from meager beginnings, and if several key people had not believed in the project, it may still be sitting in a salvage yard instead of keeping the shores of Lake Wateree safe.

Hunter said former Kershaw County Fire Marshal Elliott found the boat in a salvage yard in Columbia. It previously had been used by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources` fisheries department.

The two men decided to purchase the boat and began refurbishing it to make it into a fire boat.

``Lots of people said it couldn`t be done,`` Hunter said.

Regardless, the men saw potential in it and worked with a team of people to install all the necessary equipment. They got an engine for it at a reduced price through a friend and installed a pump. It had to be outfitted with lights, a siren and a radio, as well as all the standard safety equipment like life preservers, a fire extinguisher, throw cushions and safety lines.

Finally, it was painted red, white and black and emblazoned with the words, ``Kershaw Co. Fire Service`` and ``Beaver Creek Fire & Rescue.``

``It took probably about a year to get everything like we wanted on it,`` Hunter said. The project cost about $20,000 to $25,000.

He said he and others felt it was important to have a fire boat on Lake Wateree because the boat can get to a house on the lake via water much quicker than a truck can by running on the perimeter roads.

``It takes a long time to get a truck around to some of those houses,`` Hunter said. ``The fire boat can get there much quicker.``

Beaver Creek houses the boat at Wateree Marina, which is across the street from the fire station, for quick access, and Hunter said the marina has been a big help.

In addition to fighting island, pier and boat fires, the Beaver Creek fire boat helps with water rescue, assists wildlife officers and helps the sheriff`s office with boating accidents, missing persons and drowning cases.

During the past nine years, firefighters also have used the boat to fight several structure fires.

Faulkenberry said his office is happy with the new rating but is already looking toward the future and wants to eventually upgrade to a larger, more powerful boat.

Hunter called the new rating wonderful and said it was a team effort with players throughout the county, including the administration and Kershaw County Council.

``They`ve all worked at it. It didn`t come from Beaver Creek alone,`` he said.