Wash. firefighters add jet boat to arsenal

With the number of increasing incidents occurring on water, the department recognized the need for water-friendly equipment


By Kristin M. Kraemer
The Tri-City Herald

PASCO, Wash. — Pasco fire officials have described it as a “sports car of a boat.”

It can reach speeds of 47 mph, easily maneuver through shallow water and around obstacles, and come to a complete stop within 10 feet.

Less than three months after getting City Council approval, Pasco Fire Department’s new jet boat has arrived to join its arsenal of equipment.

And the department’s certified swift-water rescue technicians aren’t wasting time getting familiar with the boat as spring temperatures inch closer to the century mark.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity that this is going to bring us, and the services that we can provide to the Tri-City region,” Assistant Chief Dave Hare said. “This is a boater community: Our biggest natural resources are our rivers, and we get a lot of people in here specifically for those rivers. It’s been a long time coming.”

The Pasco Fire Rescue boat was the idea of several firefighters who recognized the need for immediate rescue abilities on the water.

The sheriff’s offices in Benton and Franklin counties have boats that patrol Friday through Sunday and for special events. Columbia Basin Dive Rescue is volunteer based and takes some time to respond and get vessels into the water. And the Coast Guard station in Kennewick does not do search and rescue missions.

Hare says the Pasco program will enhance the good job those entities already do, by providing around-the-clock availability of a rescue boat and swimmers.

Pasco City Council voted unanimously in February to establish a Water Rescue Program.

The staff report said it would need $200,000 the first year for capital costs, training and equipment, with $35,000 to $45,000 a year after for continued training and operations.

The $116,000 boat package included a pump, water cannon, state-of-the-art electronic equipment, high-intensity lighting, radar and a trailer.

Even though the cost of the boat was absorbed into the fire department’s existing budget, Councilman Bob Hoffmann proposed starting a community fund to supplement the program. His colleagues agreed with the idea.

Hoffmann and fellow Councilman Al Yenney took the project to Pasco Kiwanis, a service organization structured to accept tax-deductible donations. Yenney is a member of Kiwanis.

Hoffmann says ideally they would have kicked off the Tri-Cities Community Fundraiser Challenge in March or April, but it took some time to work out the plan.

The goal is to raise $100,000 by July 1, with all of the money going back into the department’s vehicle fund, which was used to purchase the boat. Any donations made after the deadline, or above the target goal, will be used to buy additional equipment and educational materials for boaters.

Donors will be issued a receipt and can ask to remain anonymous.

Hoffmann, asked why people should help reimburse the city coffers, said “it proves that not every worthwhile civic project has to come out of taxpayers’ money that they didn’t participate in the decision for.”

This helps Hoffmann demonstrate that there are alternatives to just saying “yes” to another expense item, while also allowing Tri-Citians to show pride in funding a community effort.

“More and more boats are showing up. The number of incidents on the river is increasing and the value (of the rescue boat) is going to be apparent very soon,” he told the Herald.

Rogue Jet Boatworks of White City, Ore., delivered the boat Wednesday. The following day, the department’s 13 swift-water rescue technicians started training with the manufacturer.

The department has a covered mooring at Columbia Marine Center on South Fourth Avenue.

Three or four swimmers — a mix of paramedics and emergency medical technicians — will be staffed per shift at the Oregon Avenue station, and will be able to set out from the Pasco Boat Basin within 10 minutes.

The boat will respond to emergency calls on the Columbia River, the Yakima River out past West Richland, and the Snake River up to Ice Harbor Dam, Hare said.

Hare and Chief Bob Gear said the boat will not be fully operational 24/7 until 2017 because it will take time for all of the rescue swimmers to go through advanced training, so they’re prepared for extreme weather and night conditions.

The department is shooting for 70 percent availability for water-based emergencies during this boating season, with plans to assist in protecting other boaters during Water Follies.

By next year, it should be an all-hazards program. That means the boat also will provide support for wildland fires near the rivershore and hazardous material incidents on the water.

“We’re real proud of this program,” Hare said. “We think that this is going to be a huge asset to our community.”

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