Wash. Dept. Considers Purchase of New Fire Boat

The Vancouver Fire Department has a boat it uses on the Columbia River, but it would be inaccurate to call it a fire boat.

Dec. 02--The Vancouver Fire Department has a boat it uses on the Columbia River, but it would be inaccurate to call it a fire boat.

The small patrol boat, bought for $500 about five years ago after it was declared surplus by the Coast Guard, doesn't meet standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

For starters, it can't be used to fight fires. The Coast Guard used it for harbor patrol.

"We have a bucket," said Tom Coval, a fire captain who coordinates the department's marine response unit. "And a fire extinguisher."

In 2009, after testing the waters with the old patrol boat for a few years, Vancouver Fire Department leaders felt it was time for a more useful vessel, one properly equipped to respond to fires, medical calls, chemical spills and technical rescues. The Coast Guard, after conducting a study of regional needs, supported the city's application for a Department of Homeland Security grant.

The fire department, joined by Clark County Fire and Rescue and the Port of Astoria, made a case that having three new vessels on the Columbia River would close safety and security gaps identified by the Coast Guard.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, as part of its Port Security Grant Program, awarded the Vancouver Fire Department a $2.6 million dollar grant that would pay for three Quick Response Vessels, equipment and training.

The largest vessel would be used by the Vancouver Fire Department, and the smaller two vessels would go to Clark County Fire and Rescue and the Port of Astoria.

Monday night, the Vancouver City Council will vote on whether to accept the grant.

Out of the total $2.6 million grant, $1.8 million would go to Vancouver. That would cover the cost of the vessel, training and administering the grant, as the city would manage the funds for the two other agencies.

Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina and Division Chief Stephen Eldred discussed the grant with the city council during a Nov. 26 workshop. They told councilors that a requirement for matching funds had been waived. Paying annual maintenance and operations costs for the Quick Response Vessel would cost more than twice what the city pays for the current boat.

The current boat costs about $60,000 annually for maintenance, insurance, equipment, fuel and specialty pay, as firefighters earn a different rate while on marine duty.

Maintenance and operations for the new vessel would cost about $143,000 annually. The $83,000 difference can be attributed to extra costs for insurance, fuel, equipment replacement and repairs, Eldred said.

The life of a Quick Response Vessel is 20 to 25 years, Eldred said.

To help with annual costs, 80 community partners have pledged $380,000 over the next decade, Eldred said, including one business at the Port of Vancouver that wishes to remain anonymous but pledged $10,000 a year for 10 years. Eldred told councilors the public-private partnership would be based on letters of intent signed by the business owners, but if owners decided not to help with the annual costs, the city would just have to pay a larger share.

Clark County Fire District 5 has committed a one-time payment of $200,000, Eldred said.

Councilor Jeanne Harris inquired whether Eldred had approached Port of Vancouver commissioners to see if the port would commit to helping with the annual costs, but Eldred said he was waiting to see what the city councilors thought about the grant. He said commissioners have been supportive, though.

Katie Odem, a communications specialist for the Port of Vancouver, said Friday that commissioners have not yet formally discussed giving the fire department money, but having the new vessels seems like a good idea.

"We think this will supplement the larger maritime emergency response system on and along the Columbia River," Odem said.

In addition to fire protection for the businesses, the fire department also responds to emergencies on ships that come through the Port of Vancouver.

About 38 ships a month dock at the port, Odem said.

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