Apparatus, Petrillo, SOC Specialized

Equipping Fire and Rescue Boats for Service

Issue 7 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

1 The FDNY operates three large fireboats: Three Forty Three and the William M. Feehan (both shown here) and Firefighter II. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of the Fire Department of New York.)
1 The FDNY operates three large fireboats: Three Forty Three and the William M. Feehan (both shown here) and Firefighter II. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of the Fire Department of New York.)

Fireboats, rescue boats, and combinations of the two require specialized equipment for firefighters and rescue personnel to perform their jobs expeditiously.

The kind of equipment carried on these boats, whether large oceanfront boats or smaller river/lake craft, depends on the type of body of water, the potential hazards on the water and along the shore, and the missions the boats are charged with.

2 Six SAFE Boats are in the FDNY’s marine fleet, outfitted to handle firefighting, search and rescue, hazmat calls, and medical runs
2 Six SAFE Boats are in the FDNY’s marine fleet, outfitted to handle firefighting, search and rescue, hazmat calls, and medical runs.

Department Fireboats

Joseph Abbamonte, battalion chief for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Marine Battalion, says that the New York harbor is one of the largest natural harbors in the world, with 500 miles of coastline and the largest container port on the East Coast of the country. Abbamonte says the FDNY operates three large fireboats (William M. Feehan, Firefighter II, and Three Forty Three), plus six 33-foot SAFE Boats outfitted to handle firefighting, search and rescue, hazmats, and medical runs.

3 The Stan Musial is the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department’s 42½-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boat powered by twin Cummins 600-hp engines driving water jets that operates on the Mississippi River. [Photos 3 and 4 courtesy of St. Louis (MO) Fire Department.]
3 The Stan Musial is the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department’s 42½-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boat powered by twin Cummins 600-hp engines driving water jets that operates on the Mississippi River. [Photos 3 and 4 courtesy of St. Louis (MO) Fire Department.]

The SAFE Boats are powered by three 350-horsepower (hp) Yamaha outboard engines, he says, and have a Chevy 350-cubic-inch engine in the bow that powers a 1,000-gallon-per-minute (gpm) Darley pump. The boats carry 100 feet each of 2½- and 1¾-inch hose, a halligan tool, ax, closet hook, manual bolt cutters, reciprocating saw, damage control kits for boats taking on water, search-and-rescue gear [throw bags and personal flotation devices (PFDs)], carbon monoxide detectors, gas meters, thermal imaging cameras (TICs), and radiation detection meters. “Sometimes we have a medical emergency on a boat where we don’t know what caused the emergency,” Abbamonte notes, “and because we operate alone out there, we have our own meters and equipment to make that determination.”

4 This 27-foot SAFE Boat also is part of the marine fleet performing fire and rescue functions for the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department
4 This 27-foot SAFE Boat also is part of the marine fleet performing fire and rescue functions for the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department.

Abbamonte points out that FDNY prides itself on creating marine firefighters who attend a number of training schools, including a school at Resolve Maritime Salvage, shipboard training at the Maritime Incident Response Team in Virginia, and other damage control training sessions. “They also get emergency medical services (EMS) training, and we have a group of paramedics trained to the rescue technician level who also get training in the maritime environment.”

5 The Port of Houston (TX) Fire Department operates three 71-foot MetalCraft Marine Firestorm fire and rescue boats to protect 52 miles of the Houston ship channel. Shown is Fireboat 2. [Photos 5-8 courtesy of the Port of Houston (TX) Fire Department.]
5 The Port of Houston (TX) Fire Department operates three 71-foot MetalCraft Marine Firestorm fire and rescue boats to protect 52 miles of the Houston ship channel. Shown is Fireboat 2. [Photos 5-8 courtesy of the Port of Houston (TX) Fire Department.]

Mike Arras, deputy chief at St. Louis (MO) Fire Department, says his department operates the Stan Musial, a 42½-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boat, and a 27-foot SAFE Boat on the Mississippi River. “We also have access to five swiftwater caches of equipment in the region,” Arras says, “which are trailer-operated caches with two inflatable Zodiac boats and engines, as well as additional equipment, that respond to floods on the Mississippi nearly every year.”

Ray Hummel, captain of the MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boat, says the boat is powered by twin diesel 600-hp Cummins engines driving water jets instead of props and has two Hale pumps capable of 4,000 gpm each, two 2,000-gpm remote control monitors (on the roof and at the bow), two rear-deck manually operated 1,000-gpm monitors, and a five-foot dive platform off the aft deck. “We also have a 3,000-pound winch, backboards, webbing and netting for a body catcher, onboard oxygen, medical equipment, and extra PFDs,” Hummel says, “along with two five-inch discharges where we can pump to shore, 200 feet of 2½-inch hose, and 200 feet of 1¾-inch.”

6 Equipment carried on Houston’s fire and rescue boats includes pump and hose connections, SCBA, and spare air bottles.
6 Equipment carried on Houston’s fire and rescue boats includes pump and hose connections, SCBA, and spare air bottles.

Dave Washington, captain on the SAFE boat, says the boat carries a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system, a Hummingbird depth finder, a tow hook, PFDs, 200 feet of 1¾-inch hose, and medical equipment. Stan Baynes, a firefighter on the squad that tows the SAFE boat to the water, says the regional swiftwater cache carries equipment that can be stowed on the boat as needed, including ropes and hardware for high line rescues, night vision equipment, dry suits, two Zodiacs with four 40-hp Evinrude outboard motors, generators, rope and flare guns, a sheltering system for long-term operations, and scene lighting.

William Buck, chief of the Port of Houston (TX) Fire Department, says his department protects 52 miles of the Houston ship channel from three stations, each housing a MetalCraft Marine 71-foot Firestorm fire and rescue boat. “Hazardous materials are one of our major concerns, so we have extinguishment and detection equipment to deal with them,” Buck says. “We carry TNT Rescue hydraulic cutters and spreaders in case we have to get access to a vessel, and each boat has water rescue equipment where we try to perform rescues without leaving the boat because the draft is only two feet 10 inches, meaning we can get close to use grappling hooks, throw lines, or a cargo net.”

7 Supply and handlines are stored as donuts in a compartment and are easily accessible aboard Houston’s Fireboat 2.
7 Supply and handlines are stored as donuts in a compartment and are easily accessible aboard Houston’s Fireboat 2.

Buck adds that his maritime firefighters usually recover from the bow end of the boat where the helmsman gives the boat’s water jets a push to bring the victim back to the boat’s dive platform. “We also will use FLIR where we can see the temperature difference of product on the water or an individual in the water,” Buck says, “or when we are looking for hot spots on a vessel while we are doing a cooling operation. FLIR has been a very large asset for us.”

Houston’s Firestorms also have onboard air breathing cascade systems, EMS and medical equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and spare SCBA bottles, and basic life support medical facilities. The Firestorms will flow up to 15,000 gpm through their many outlets, including shore discharges, a 5,000-gpm Stang monitor on top of the deckhouse, two 1,250-gpm Elkhart Brass monitors aft, and two Elkhart Brass 2,000-gpm monitors on the bow.

8 Houston’s fire and rescue boats each carry a Zodiac RIB powered by an Evinrude 40-hp outboard motor
8 Houston’s fire and rescue boats each carry a Zodiac RIB powered by an Evinrude 40-hp outboard motor.

Bryan Riley, chief of special operations for the Tampa (FL) Fire Department, says Tampa’s flagship fire and rescue boat is the Patriot, a 69-foot MetalCraft Marine boat the will make 34 knots; flows 13,000 gpm; and carries 400 feet of 1¾-inch fire attack hose, an advanced life support medical suite (with medications, an EKG machine, intubation equipment, and full resuscitation capabilities), a 500-gallon foam tank, a FoamPro foam system, three forward-facing monitors (a 300-gpm Stang on the wheelhouse and two on forward deck positions), and two 250-gpm monitors aft. “Our dive medics operate mainly off this boat, which has a dive platform, and an inflatable rigid-hull inflatable boat (RIB) with a 150-hp outboard motor that we deploy from a winch,” Riley says. “The boat also carries side-scanning sonar, backboards, and a Stokes basket for rescue situations.”

9 The Seattle (WA) Fire Department has two large fire and rescue boats: the 96½-foot Chief Seattle (shown) and the 108-foot Leschi. [Photos 9-11 courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]
9 The Seattle (WA) Fire Department has two large fire and rescue boats: the 96½-foot Chief Seattle (shown) and the 108-foot Leschi. [Photos 9-11 courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]

Other boats in Tampa’s maritime fleet include the Santmyer, a 30-foot Sea Ark, that will run between 30 and 40 knots and has a 1,250-gpm pump, 400-feet of 1¾-inch hose, a 50-gallon foam tank, and the ability carry a large foam tote on the aft deck. The boat is staffed with paramedics and has EMS ability in the wheelhouse, backboards, a Stokes, and a dive door on the port side that swings open to allow victims to board from the water. Tampa also has two 27-foot Boston Whalers, one set up as a fire and rescue boat with a 1,250-gpm pump and rescue equipment and the second as a rescue and dive recovery boat that is based at a fire station on land and deployed to lake and river locations.

10 Seattle also operates two 50-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boats that can pump 6,000 gpm and handle search and rescue operations.
10 Seattle also operates two 50-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boats that can pump 6,000 gpm and handle search and rescue operations.

Bob Kerns, lieutenant with the Marine Unit-Fireboats for the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, says Seattle has two large boat platforms, the 96½-foot Chief Seattle fireboat and the 108-foot Leschi. “The large platforms also have smaller boats on them,” Kerns notes. “The Leschi carries a 14-foot aluminum work skiff and a 17-foot RIB on the stern to be used when working near a vessel or when in shallow water for search and rescue. The Chief Seattle has a 16-foot aluminum work skiff on the aft deck that can be used in the same way.”

The Leschi also has a 70-foot crane with a 2,000-pound tip load on its aft deck that has a waterway, camera, and ladder way, Kerns adds. “We also carry hazmat equipment, a radiation detection system, Stokes, backboards, throw bags, and EMS gear,” he says. “We have equipment for vessel rescue assistance and dewatering, pumps, and jet eductors that are pumped into and form a siphon to pump water out of a vessel. Both our large platforms carry 400 feet of spill boom to contain spills.”

11 Three of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s fire and rescue boats are shown tied up at Seattle’s Station 5 pier
11 Three of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s fire and rescue boats are shown tied up at Seattle’s Station 5 pier.

Seattle also has two 50-foot MetalCraft Marine fire and rescue boats that can pump 6,000 gpm and carry Stokes, backboards, EMS gear, throw bags, 1¾-inch hose, dewatering pumps, and cotton absorbent booms for spills, Kerns points out. And, foam is an important element on all of Seattle’s fireboats, he adds, with the Chief Seattle carrying 1,000 gallons, Leschi 6,000 gallons, and each of the two smaller boats carrying 200 gallons.

From the Manufacturers

12 Lake Assault Boats built these rescue boats designed to operate in very shallow waters for the Anoka Champlin (MN) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Lake Assault Boats.)
12 Lake Assault Boats built these rescue boats designed to operate in very shallow waters for the Anoka Champlin (MN) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Lake Assault Boats.)

Matthew Velluto, director of business development for Ribcraft USA, says the equipment load that his company designs must take into account the boat’s size, its operational requirements, and its mission focus. “There’s basic rescue, fire suppression, dive teams, flooding rescue, or a combination of any of those,” Velluto says. “The boats we equip for rescue typically have a Stokes basket and backboard, both in some sort of closed storage; dive ladder arches for over the transom or engine; rescue bags; throw bags; PFDs; and medical equipment.”

For fire departments that want a multipurpose vessel, Velluto says Ribcraft provides hookups for a portable pump in boats 21 feet and larger, especially if the department wants a through-hull intake. “We also install sonar and side-scan sonar for search and rescue or recovery,” he notes, “and on larger boats we’ve installed infrared systems and TICs, LED scene lighting systems, and communications equipment.”

13 Ribcraft USA built this rescue boat powered by a Honda 90-hp outboard engine for the Carver (MA) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Ribcraft USA
13 Ribcraft USA built this rescue boat powered by a Honda 90-hp outboard engine for the Carver (MA) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Ribcraft USA.)

Chad Dumars, vice president of operations for Lake Assault Boats, says his company has fabricated a special all-terrain vehicle (ATV) module in the front of its drop-bow-door boats to secure either a firefighting or a rescue ATV. “The department hits the beach, drops the bow door, and offloads the ATV,” Dumars says. “That 3,800 pounds up on the bow meant we had to alter the shape of the hull in order to carry that much weight up front.”

Lake Assault also has installed SpitzLift electric and manual winches on some of its fire and rescue boats, Dumars says. “The SpitzLift is portable and can be moved to different mounts on the deck,” he says. “Typically it’s used to lower and hoist a Stokes basket in a rescue situation. The unit can handle 900 pounds and folds easily for storage.”

14 Metal Shark Aluminum Boats built this fire-rescue boat for the Miami Beach (FL) Fire Department. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Metal Shark Aluminum Boats.)
14 Metal Shark Aluminum Boats built this fire-rescue boat for the Miami Beach (FL) Fire Department. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Metal Shark Aluminum Boats.)

Dean Jones, director of sales for Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, says his company has built fire and rescue boats as small as 16 feet and as large as 250 feet. “We’ve put quite a range of equipment on them,” Jones says, “from search and rescue equipment; bow and side dive doors; specially designed ladders and storage options; ambulance benches; EMS kits; thermal imaging; sonar; chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear protection; air filtration; cabin positive-pressure equipment; and biological and radiological equipment.”

Jones notes that nearly all fireboats also serve as rescue/recovery boats. “Ninety percent of the time they are used for rescue, and only 10 percent for pumping water, when the boat becomes a fire hydrant with an unending water supply,” he observes. “But, often a fire department needs a speedy type response boat, or maybe a working boat for rescue, but with a small portable pump, foam eduction, and a monitor or two.”

15 This 55-foot Defiant Metal Shark fire and rescue boat is one of two built for the Port of Plaquemines (LA) with a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive (CBRNE) protected cabin
15 This 55-foot Defiant Metal Shark fire and rescue boat is one of two built for the Port of Plaquemines (LA) with a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive (CBRNE) protected cabin.

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.