New boats for fire, police

It took five years and nearly $600,000, but Marietta’s new 25-foot custom-built fire and police boats arrived this week and were officially launched into the Ohio River during a public ceremony Tuesday morning.

The vessels were ordered in early 2012, with an original tentative delivery date of Sept. 30, but due to some manufacturing delays, the boats did not arrive until Sunday.

Still, Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham said it’s worth the wait.

“We have a pretty high response rate on the rivers-everything from stranded boaters or capsized boats to boat fires and assistance with drowning incidents,” he said. “We’ll be using this boat as a multi-purpose unit.”

He noted the boat will be especially helpful for the department’s underwater dive crew as platforms on the front and rear of the vessel, as well as a fold-down ladder, will allow for easier access into and out of the water.

Durham said the boat is outfitted with some of the latest technology for response on the water, including the ability to communicate with divers while they’re submerged, structure sonar scanning, GPS and forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) for navigation at night or during other low-vision situations.

A 1,500-gallon per minute pump provides water for three master water cannons in addition to a class A and B foam system for fighting fires.

Durham said the boat’s cab is heated and includes a patient bench where paramedics can treat patients in any weather environment.

The new boat replaces the department’s former pontoon vessel that Mayor Joe Matthews said will now be up for sale.

“The old boat will go to the highest bidder, but the sale will have to be approved by council first,” he said.

Marietta Fire Capt. Marc Coppernoll said the old fire boat could travel about 10 mph, but the new boat can cruise at speeds around 40 mph.

“That may not seem super-fast, but it’s a dramatic change from the old boat,” he said. “These boats are a needed asset, and we’re pretty fortunate to be able to have them.”

He noted that traffic, both pleasure and commercial craft, is increasing on the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, including fuel-laden barges and the return of passenger sternwheelers like the Queen of the Mississippi and American Queen.

The police boat is a first for the Marietta Police Department, according to Capt. Jeff Waite.

“We’ve never even had a johnboat,” he said. “This unit definitely gives us another resource. During the Sternwheel and Riverfront Roar festivals we’ve always had to rely on the coast guard or department of natural resources for assistance.”

Marietta Police Chief Brett McKitrick said the department hopes to collaborate with those agencies for training exercises and during investigations.

“We get calls for (bridge) jumpers, boating accidents and other incidents on the rivers,” he said.

McKitrick said at least six officers will receive training for operation of the new police boat, which is also equipped with sonar and other technology for emergency response.

Marietta Police Detective Troy Hawkins said some additional safety equipment will also have to be installed on the police boat. But the vessel will make a difference when responding to incidents on the rivers.

“In the past we had to call the fire department for access to the rivers,” he said.

The boats were financed by a reimbursable federal port security grant through the Huntington Port-Tristate that covers the Ohio River between New Martinsville and Huntington, W.Va.

Cost for the police boat was $197,000, and the fire boat was $398,000.

Coppernoll noted that a condition for the city to receive the grant funding is that both boats would be available for response to major disasters anywhere within the Huntington Port-Tristate area.

“For at least the first three years after receiving the grant, we’re required to respond within the port area, but only for major incidents,” he said.

That coverage area includes sharing resources with local communities like Parkersburg.

“This is a wonderful asset for the entire area, especially for industries that are located up and down the Ohio River,” said Parkersburg Fire Chief Eric Taylor, who also attended Tuesday’s event.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrew Christopherson, with the Marine Safety Unit of the Huntington Port-Tristate, said Marietta is a strategic location for the boats, which will help support port security efforts along the Ohio River.

“And this will really help decrease our response time to major incidents within the Huntington Port area,” he said.

North River project manager Gary Matthews arrived with the boats and will provide training for the police and fire personnel over the next few days.

“We build a lot of commercial and recreational models at North River,” he said. “But these are one-of-a-kind boats that had to be custom-built to specifications from day one.”

Matthews said the boats have been taken from concept to design and finally into construction since the city’s initial order in early 2012.

“We spent two or three months on design, and another five months in production for these boats,” he said.

Matthews said this week’s training will begin with basic operation of the boats, including loading and unloading the vessels from their trailers.

“We’ll also work on handling the boats around docking areas, then move on to the on-board systems like firefighting and sonar scanning,” he said.