New Jersey Waterfront Growth, Activity Prompt Purchase Of Fire Boat

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Responding to rapid development and increased use of Hudson County's northern waterfront, the area's regional fire and rescue squad has christened its first fire boat.

For years, New Jersey has had a mutual aid agreement with the Fire Department of New York, and in many cases has been assisted by the Coast Guard and NYPD police boats for marine rescues and other non-fire emergencies.

But, said Jeff Welz, co-director of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad, ``We didn't want the residents of North Hudson to rely on outside agencies for rescues off our shores. Post 9/11, all these other agencies, their commitments have grown.''

Thousands of condominiums have been built along the west bank of the Hudson River in recent years and more are planned. Construction of marinas, parks and restaurants, often linked by new stretches of the state-mandated Hudson River waterfront walkway, has drawn increasing numbers of visitors to the waterfront.

Those new demands, as well as cost savings from regionalizing five fire departments, prompted the squad to purchase the boat earlier this year.

The 27-foot Marine 1, which can pump 5,500 gallons of water per minute, is small for a fireboat _ about one-quarter the size and pumping capacity of New York City's main boats. But with a top speed of 30 knots, or 35 miles per hour, and a shallow draft of 2.5 feet, it can get to the riverfront's many shallow spots in a hurry.

``Obviously, we're part of the overall river response team,'' Welz said. ``But this was designed specifically to accommodate the needs of the residents of North Hudson.''

Formed in 1999, the regional squad serves the waterfront communities of Weehawken, West New York, Guttenberg and North Bergen, plus landlocked Union City. Officials said the 310-member squad, with an annual budget of $32 million, has saved about $15 million in administrative costs since its founding.

``Collectively now, we can afford something and we can provide a higher level or service,'' said Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken, who chairs the squad's board of directors.

Purchasing the boat used from the Stoney Point, N.Y., Fire Department in Westchester County, also saved money, officials said. The $30,000 price was about $50,000 less than what a comparable new boat would have cost.

Jim Long, a spokesman for the FDNY, said the department's Marine Operations unit has three active boats, including the 129-foot McKean, with a capacity of 19,000 gallons per minute, and the Fire and Smoke, a 134-foot boat that can throw 20,000 gallons of water on a fire every minute.

``We do respond to fires in Jersey,'' Long said.

That includes the ports in Newark and Elizabeth operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has no fire boats, said Bill Cahill, an agency spokesman.

The new boat puts North Hudson in position to return the favor.

``If we were in need and the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue was in a position to help, it would be welcomed,'' Long said.