Water Rescue Vessels Vary by Department Location, Hazard Type

The kinds of hazards that rescuers will face help determine what departments need. Al Petrillo reviews some of these units.
Rescue boats and combination fire/rescue boats that fire departments use around the country vary in type and style, mainly based on the kinds of hazards that rescuers will face. With the wide array of boat models comes a wide array of rescue equipment they carry, determined by geographic location and types of hazards.
FDNY

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) uses a tiered response system for its marine units, says FDNY’s Chief of Marine Francis Simpson, with three main marine companies based on the west side of Manhattan (Marine 1), on Staten Island (Marine 9), and at the Brooklyn Navy yard (Marine 6)—each consisting of three boats. “Marine 1 has the Three Forty Three, a 140-foot-long fireboat that can pump up to 50,000 gallons per minute (gpm), which carries 3,000 gallons of AR AFFF foam, rescue equipment, and a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RIB); an Alpha boat, which is a 33-foot Safe Boat with a 1,000-gallon pump, 25 gallons of AR AFFF foam, and rescue equipment; and a Bravo unit, a 31-foot Safe Boat that is a New York State-certified ambulance,” Simpson says.

FDNY operates three main marine companies based in Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn that include 33-foot and 31-foot Safe Boats that function in a triple role as fire/rescue/EMS craft.

 FDNY operates three main marine companies based in Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn that include 33-foot and 31-foot Safe Boats that function in a triple role as fire/rescue/EMS craft. (Photo 1 courtesy of Fire Department of New York.)

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“Marine 9 has Firefighter II, a sister boat to Three Forty Three; an Alpha boat; and a Bravo boat. Marine 6 has the Bravest and an Alpha and Bravo boat,” he adds. “We also run a seasonal boat program that puts additional rescue boats in the water from 7 a.m. to midnight from Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. A lot of our rescues involve people in the water, so marine firefighters will be outfitted in dry suits, fins, and tethers to swim out to victims and retrieve them to the boat or bring a personal flotation device (PFD) or torpedo buoy to them that they can hold onto and be retrieved.”

All of the FDNY’s rescue boats are equipped with swift water rescue equipment, PFDs, torpedo buoys, rope throw bags, body boards, multiple UHF and VHF radios, portable radios, and floating backboards, Simpson notes, as well as carbon monoxide and radiological meters to monitor air and oxygen levels. “We also have a Marine Response Truck with equipment for the maritime environment, along with an inflatable rescue boat that can respond from the land side if needed,” Simpson says, “and we have incorporated FDNY EMS paramedics to ride on our vessels.”

St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

St. Louis Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Arras says St. Louis operates a 42-foot MetalCraft Marine fire/rescue boat and a 27-foot Safe Boat. The fire/rescue boat has two Hale pumps capable of a total of 8,000 gpm, a 3,000-pound winch, a generator, scene lighting, a dive platform on the back, dry suits, cold water suits, wet suits, rope guns, webbing and netting to retrieve victims, floating backboards, PFDs, throw bags, and medical equipment onboard. The boat is powered by twin 600-horsepower (hp) Cummins diesel engines that drive water jets instead of propellers.

St. Louis operates the Stan Musial, a 42-foot MetalCraft Marine fire/rescue boat (shown) and also a 27-foot Safe Boat for fire/rescue work.

 St. Louis operates the Stan Musial, a 42-foot MetalCraft Marine fire/rescue boat (shown) and also a 27-foot Safe Boat for fire/rescue work. (Photo 2 courtesy of St. Louis Fire Department.)

Arras says the Safe Boat is driven by two 40-hp Evinrude outboards and outfitted with a forward looking infrared (FLIR) system and depth finder, a tow hook to get boaters out of distress, a floating backboard, throw bags, medical equipment, PFDs, and dry and wet suits.

Seattle (WA) Fire Department

The Seattle Fire Department’s primary fire/rescue boats are the Chief Seattle and the Leschi, Fireboats 1 and 2, and Rescue Boat 5, says Seattle Captain Luke Schultz. The 96-foot-long Chief Seattle can pump 10,000 gpm, has a FLIR system, is set up with a medical room to handle patients rescued from the water, and carries a 14-foot work skiff. Leschi is a 108-footer with a 6,000-gpm pump capacity and a FLIR; it also has a medical room, a 17-foot inflatable, and a 14-foot work skiff.

Fireboats 1 and 2 are sister boats, each 50-footers outfitted with FLIR and rescue equipment such as floating backboards, throw bags, and PFDs, while Rescue Boat 5 is a 25-footer that carries similar rescue equipment. “A lot of what we do is rescue people who have jumped or fallen into the water, like from overturned sailboats,” Schultz says. “Everyone on our fire and rescue boats is an EMT, and some are ALS paramedics. We also have a six-person dive-rescue team that is deployed off Fireboats 1 and 2 and the Chief Seattle.

In addition to two large fireboats and two 50-footers, Seattle also operates Rescue 5, a 25-foot RIB that’s outfitted with FLIR, floating backboards, throw bags, and PFDs.

 In addition to two large fireboats and two 50-footers, Seattle also operates Rescue 5, a 25-foot RIB that’s outfitted with FLIR, floating backboards, throw bags, and PFDs. (Photo 3 courtesy of Seattle Fire Department.)

Tampa (FL) Fire Rescue

Tampa Fire Rescue has three vessels in the water and ready to respond quickly along the east and west sides of the Tampa peninsula, says Tampa Captain of Special Operations John Bogush. Two of the craft on the east side at Marjorie Park on Davis Island have good access to downtown Tampa and the commercial port area, Bogush says, one being the Patriot, a 70-foot MetalCraft Marine fire/rescue boat rated at 13,500 gpm. “It’s also outfitted for rescue with a mid-deck setup for patient care and a full complement of paramedic equipment and medications,” he notes. “Because Tampa is a shallow water port with a sandy bottom and a depth averaging 12 feet, Patriot is driven by four diesels and four jet drives that will develop a maximum of 70 miles per hour. If we can’t approach a beach, the boat has a smaller RIB to bring a victim off the beach out to the paramedics.”

Tampa operates the Richard D. Santmyer, a 32-foot aluminum Sea Ark with an enclosed wheelhouse, carrying a 1,250-gpm pump, a patient transport area for a Stokes basket on deck, and a fold-down dive door with attached ladder.

 Tampa operates the Richard D. Santmyer, a 32-foot aluminum Sea Ark with an enclosed wheelhouse, carrying a 1,250-gpm pump, a patient transport area for a Stokes basket on deck, and a fold-down dive door with attached ladder. (Photo 4 courtesy of Tampa Fire Rescue.)

The second craft on the east side is a 27-foot Boston Whaler Guardian. Bogush says, “It has a 1,500-gpm pump and a small hydrant for handlines; is powered by twin 250-hp Mercury outboards; and has a center console, a removable dive door on the port side, a dedicated area for a Stokes basket, and the usual complement of water rescue equipment.”

On the west side, Tampa runs the Richard D. Santmyer, a 32-foot aluminum Sea Ark with an enclosed wheelhouse powered by three 250-hp Yamaha outboards and carrying a 1,250-gpm pump, a 1,500-gpm bow monitor, a patient transport area for a Stokes on the deck, and a dive door on the port side that folds down to the water with a drop-down ladder attached.

At Tampa’s Station 22 on the south end of the peninsula is a 22-foot Boston Whaler Guardian on a trailer that’s used as a rescue and EMS response boat staffed by four firefighters/EMTs cross-trained as a truck company.

Boston (MA) Fire Department

Boston Fire Department Captain of Technical Rescue John Forristall says Boston has the John S. Damrell fire/rescue boat, a 69-foot aluminum MetalCraft Maine vessel that is rated at a pumping capacity of 12,000 gpm and carries a full array of rescue equipment, including a 16-foot RIB. Boston also operates a RIBCRAFT 5.85 19-foot RIB rescue boat designated Tango 10, with a 115-hp outboard motor, a Darley portable 300-gpm pump, rescue equipment, and drop-down arms at the stern to hold a victim in place in a Stokes basket.

oston operates the 69-foot John S. Damrell fire/rescue boat made by MetalCraft Marine, a RIBCRAFT 5.89 19-foot RIB rescue boat, and a 9.0 dive/rescue RIB, but a great deal of its rescue work is accomplished out of its eight Zodiac MILPRO ERB400 inflatables powered by 30-hp outboard motors.

 Boston operates the 69-foot John S. Damrell fire/rescue boat made by MetalCraft Marine, a RIBCRAFT 5.89 19-foot RIB rescue boat, and a 9.0 dive/rescue RIB, but a great deal of its rescue work is accomplished out of its eight Zodiac MILPRO ERB400 inflatables powered by 30-hp outboard motors. (Photo 5 courtesy of Boston Fire Department.)

“We also have a RIBCRAFT 9.0, a 29-foot dive boat that also carries rescue and medical equipment,” Forristall says, “and eight Zodiac MILPRO ERB400 inflatables with 30-hp motors. They are our bread-and butter boats that can get underway in five minutes because we carry some fully inflated on a couple of our technical rescue support units, while the others are stored uninflated in bags on our enclosed rescue trailers. We also have a stacked trailer that can carry two inflated Zodiacs.”

North Oldham (KY) Fire Department

North Oldham Fire Department Sergeant/Firefighter Brad Simpson says his department operates a RIBCRAFT 5.95 19-foot RIB as a rescue boat on the Ohio River. “The boat is a dedicated rescue boat, with swift water and flood water rescue gear,” Simpson says. “We are set up to carry a Stokes and backboard and have a dive ladder off the back platform where we can get a victim into the boat easily. There’s a lot of commercial and personal traffic on the river, and we’ve had a number of calls where we were able to make a quick response.”

orth Oldham launches its RIBCRAFT 5.95 19-foot RIB into the Ohio River, heading out on a rescue call.

 North Oldham launches its RIBCRAFT 5.95 19-foot RIB into the Ohio River, heading out on a rescue call. (Photo 6 courtesy of North Oldham Fire Department.)

RIBCRAFT USA

Matthew Velluto, vice president of sales and marketing for RIBCRAFT USA, says his company’s boats range in size from 15 to 41 feet, but when fire departments are looking for rescue boats, they usually choose a model between 15 and 25 feet. “The size is often dictated by the body of water it’ll be operated in, the size of the department, how they’re using it, and whether it will be kept in the water or in the station on a trailer and deployed when called,” Velluto points out. “Our 5.95, a 19-foot boat, is very popular because of its versatility. It can be operated on a lake, in a navigable river, or in the ocean along the coast and can carry two to three personnel plus patients.”

Velluto says the 5.85 comes in two configurations: with a traditional center console, usually used by departments with longer distances to cover, and the rescue-combination model, chosen by most departments because it has space on the deck for a patient in a Stokes yet still allows the crew to move around easily. “Some departments use that space in a dual capacity, for a patient in a rescue situation, or for a dive team when called for that discipline,” he says.

Lake Assault Boats

Bob Beck, director of sales and marketing for Lake Assault Boats, notes that his company is primarily known as building aluminum landing craft-style vessels but that it also builds catamaran-style fire/rescue boats and monohulls from 20 to 60 feet. “We’ll customize the boat, with a bow door, narrow door, or patrol boat step-down style,” Beck says. “Typically, we offer dive doors or platforms on all our boats. Many departments like the large bow door for a dive team, but some choose a dive door on the side that either swings open or drops down 90 degrees with a ladder attached.”

Lake Assault Boats built this 30-foot rescue boat with an enclosed wheelhouse for the Pittsburgh (PA) Fire Department.

 Lake Assault Boats built this 30-foot rescue boat with an enclosed wheelhouse for the Pittsburgh (PA) Fire Department. (Photo 7 courtesy of Lake Assault Boats.)

Beck says Lake Assault has designed specific areas on its boats for Stokes baskets or backboards on deck, on the cabin roof, or inside the cabin. “The rescue boats we build always have PDF and throw bag stowage areas and often davits with slings that can be used to raise victims out of the water,” he says. “Joystick control for steering is the most popular feature we sell, as well as FLIR and other electronics systems.”

Safe Boats International

Scott Clanton, director of business development at Safe Boats International, notes his most popular model rescue boats are the 23-foot to 38-foot center console models. “Probably our most popular models are the 31- and 33-foot emergency medical transport boats that have two litter positions inside the cabin,” Clanton says. “These models have an articulating bow door that can be dropped down to bring an injured patient into the craft. We recently built a 33-footer for a customer with the port side bench removed and replaced with a track to hold a Stryker ambulance cot.”

The 33-foot enclosed wheelhouse Safe Boat is a popular choice among fire departments for a combination fire/rescue craft.

 The 33-foot enclosed wheelhouse Safe Boat is a popular choice among fire departments for a combination fire/rescue craft. (Photo 8 courtesy of Safe Boats International.)

Metal Shark Aluminum Boats

Dean Jones, vice president of sales for Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, says his company makes fire/rescue boats in sizes from 23 to 75 feet. He notes that the 23-foot Relentless, 28-foot Courageous, and 29- and 32-foot Defiant models are popular choices for rescue boats. “We built a 32-foot Courageous for Boca Raton (FL) Fire Rescue and a 32-foot Defiant rescue boat for Horry County (SC) Fire Rescue,” he points out. “And now we are offering a fire/rescue variant in our Defiant series from 32 to 75 feet.”

Moose Boats Inc.

Stephen Dirkes, general manager of Moose Boats, makes the M1 and M2 catamaran water jet craft in 38- and 46-foot versions and the M3 monohull 36-foot variant. “Fire departments like the water jet models because there are no props to worry about with victims in the water for a rescue situation,” Dirkes says. “Our M1 and M2 models have Twin Hamilton Jet HJ322 propulsion jets, powered by either Volvo or Cummins turbo-diesels.”

Moose Boats Inc. built this 36-foot M3 monohull fire/rescue boat for New Orleans (LA) Fire Rescue.

 Moose Boats Inc. built this 36-foot M3 monohull fire/rescue boat for New Orleans (LA) Fire Rescue. (Photo 9 courtesy of Moose Boats Inc.)

RescueONE Connector Boats

Tony Lumpkin, president of RescueONE Connector Boats, says his 16½-foot-long, six-foot-wide, flat-bottom-design boat is actually a four-in-one boat: rapid response, flood evacuation, recovery, and fire pump option.

RescueONE Connector Boats makes flat-bottom boats that can be connected together to form a large rescue platform.

  RescueONE Connector Boats makes flat-bottom 16½-foot-long boats that can be connected together to form a large rescue platform. (Photo 10 courtesy of RescueONE.)

“We also have a new design, the VX25 offshore style V-hull boat with a center console, that has a removable door in the side to allow recovery of a victim in a Stokes,” Lumpkin says. “We also are introducing our 4.3- and 5-meter inflatables, with relief valves in the floor to eliminate overinflating.”


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.

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