Fire agencies discuss need for rescue boat

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Last Monday, January 7, Chelan Fire Commission Chair, Russ Jones, invited a group of individuals and agency representatives together to find out what their interest might be in Chelan Fire and Rescue’s (CFR) new, but not paid for, acquisition… a 25 foot Defender that Jones and others hope to put into service on Lake Chelan as a rescue swimmer platform and potential fire boat.

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This Defender Class boat can be purchased for $5,500 and made operational for Chelan Fire and Rescue. It would primarily be a vessel to transport the District Rescue Swimmers when needed on the Lake.

The boat is a Coast Guard surplus vessel that Jones found for $5,500. The Defender class boat, also called a Response boat was introduced in 2002 by the U.S. Coast Guard and as such, serves a variety of missions including search and rescue, law enforcement and fire fighting.

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A number of agency representatives joined Commissioner Russ Jones to discuss the interest in purchasing and putting into the District’s tool bag for on-water rescue and other operations if needed.

The design length of the hull is 25 feet and is normally powered by twin 225 horsepower outboards and are capable of speeds in excess of 46 knots. It can carry up to 10 individuals and is trailerable.

The deal is that if CFR purchases the boat, it must make it operational within 12 months and keep it for 18 months under the auspices of the District.

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Firefighters and Agency Representatives got their first look at the Defender after the Monday meeting. 

Jones put together an estimate to make the boat fully operational. He has found two 225 hp outboards at $4,000 each or $8,000 with only 200 hours on them. Installation would cost another $1,000. Batteries would add $567 to the total and a Fire Department radio would cost $1,615.

The vessel comes with full electronics including radar. Total cost to make the vessel operational would be approximately $17,800.00.

Annual operating costs are estimated at $3,970. “We have been offered maintenance by a local marine shop,” said Jones. In addition, Sunset Marina has offered dock space for the boat.

Most of those attending the meeting were positive about CFR acquiring and putting the vessel to work. Chief Asher (CFR) said, “In the long term the versatility it gives us is pretty hard to pass up.”

Chelan County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol representative said he was on hand to find out what the District wanted to do and to go from there. “We want some insight into whatever it is you want to accomplish,” said Moody.

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Department has the responsibility to patrol the waters of Chelan County including Lake Chelan for the purpose of preventing crime and enforcing the law. Currently the department has 10 Marine Patrol Volunteers that help during the busy boating season.

“I think a boat is a good investment because in the summertime we have tourists … incidents we can’t get to,” said Cody Evans. He is a volunteer rescue swimmer and SCUBA diver. “I think it is a good investment for Chelan Fire and Rescue.”

Chelan County Fire District 5 Chief, Arnold Baker said, “We need capabilities for rescue. Yes, I like it, but don’t set your expectations too high. Set your goals and cooperate. I’m very interested.”

Douglas County Fire District Chief Jim Oatey stated that he is very interested at what’s going on, but added that river rescue is way different. “By the time we get there, it is all played out. When things go bad on the river they go really bad fast.”

Volunteer firefighter Robert Taegu said he was interested in a support role on the boat. His only concern is that it can’t make it under the old Woodin Avenue Bridge during high water.”Maybe it could be modified, but having a boat on the water ready to go in the only way to do it. It is important to be able to get out there without having to launch it.”

Volunteer Cynthia Raines is also interested in a support role on the vessel. “Having high rescue capabilities is pretty important. Accidents are going up.”

Chief Tim Lemon put together a Memo sheet for information for the group which also included on water incidents from 2005 to 2018. Most incidents involved personal watercraft accidents, drowning incidents and near drowning incidents.

One of his bigger concerns, based on other incidents around the state, is the potential for a Marina fire. Lemon wrote that there are no agencies on Lake Chelan set up or equipped to fight a marina fire from the lake.

Lemon listed a number of operational considerations for the boat include:

  • A response for drowning situations;
  • Marine rescue for boat/jet ski accidents that require an on water response;
  • Marine fire suppression response for both boat fires and potential marina fires;
  • Up-lake fire support operations;
  • As an up-lake boat ambulance if needed;
  • Standby for marine events;
  • Boater assistance; and
  • Salvage responses.

All of these operations would have to be approved by the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office because they have the jurisdiction for any marine operations on Lake Chelan.

The department will be looking at a number of areas to help fund the boat’s operation including apparatus, equipment, training, operational costs, repairs and maintenance.

Jones stated at the end of the meeting that there are a number of small grants the District can go after to help fund the boat. The $5,500 purchase is offset by the selling of the District’s old boat for $3,000. “I hope to see a little more buy-in by the other commissioners,” said Jones. Neither Commissioners Jay Witherbee or Phil Moller were too excited about the funding aspects of the vessel.

If purchased, made operational and it doesn’t work out, the boat would be worth somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000 after the 18 months, which according to Jones, is a win-win situation.

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