Alexandria Marine Ops Goes High Tech

Alexandria Marine Ops Goes High Tech

Alexandria Fire Department's new twist to river rescue.

This boat brings "rollin' on the river" into living color. It can accelerate to 36 knots in a matter of seconds and stop from that speed within 30 feet. Or it can bank a 180 or 360 degree turn at top speed, all by the proper manipulation of its jet drive propelled twin 360 horsepower diesel engines.

But this boat is not for pleasure use.

Alexandria Fire Department's new fireboat is the latest addition to its arsenal of apparatus geared to serving the citizens of Alexandria and boaters on the Potomac River. It arrived in mid-September at a cost of $247,000.

"I drove it down from Metalcraft Marine in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where it was built. We wanted to get some hours on it and find any kinks, even though we did some sea trials in Kingston for a couple of days," said Captain Rodney Masser, Marine Operations Team, Alexandria Fire Department. The trip took seven days.

"It was also a significant cost saving to deliver it that way as opposed to having it shipped," he said. "[The boat] is over 34 feet in length, counting the rear deck platform, and has a beam of 11.6 feet. That's a lot to ship."

What makes this new boat unusual is its jet drive design. "These are water jets as opposed to props. They have a lot more maneuverability and are a lot safer when rescuing someone from the water. There are no propellers to injure someone, either the victim or the rescuer," Masser said.

"The jet drive also enables us to operate over much more shallow water. It's draft is only 20 inches. Ice or debris on the river can damage propellers, but not the jets," he said.

"This was apparent when I was coming down through the inland waterway. The Delaware River was particularly full of debris. In fact, a friend of mine was bringing another new propeller driven boat back a couple of days later. I told him to be careful in the Delaware. Unfortunately, he hit a large piece of debris, broke a prop, and had to bring her in with one engine," Masser said.

INCLUDED IN THE BOAT's equipment are three water cannons, one on the roof and two on the stern. The roof cannon can pump 1,500 gallons a minute, send a water stream 262 feet, and rotate 180 degrees. The boat operator can monitor the cannon's action through a skylight above the captain's chair.

The stern cannons, one port and one starboard, can pump 400 gallons per minute and rotate 360 degrees. They are also designed to be attached to regular fire hoses, according to Masser.

Rescue and fire fighting operations can be overseen simultaneously from a stern helm that allows the boat captain to operate the craft and supervisor activities from the rear deck. This position also enables the captain to see and direct rescue operations off the rear platform near the water's surface.

EMS equipment on board include a stokes basket and litter, backboard, oxygen, suction equipment, and automatic defibrillator. "We also carry water related equipment such as wet and dry suits, flotation devices and other equipment to secure victims from the water," Masser said.

"We meet all class C fireboat standards and carry all the necessary equipment in that category. We can treat a patient in the cabin and transport two in the bow in a prone position," he said.

The transmission can back flush the jets and the engine compartment, located under the rear deck, has its own fire protection system. Being aluminum, the boat weighs 12,500 pounds fully fueled.

AIDING THE OPERATOR both in navigation and in locating objects in the water, human and otherwise, is an on-board navigation and computer system. One is located immediately above the captain's helm, the other is above the other cabin chair.

It also is equipped with GPS, chart plotter, radar, RDF (radio direction finder), three BHF radios, and a fire radio "the same as we have in our other apparatus," he said. "In the future we hope to add a forward looking infrared camera."

The minimum crew on any emergency run is three, which can be increased depending on the situation, Masser said.

"The training for our 30 member Marine Operations Team to be proficient in operating this craft is taking a little longer than anticipated due to getting used to the jet drive," said Battalion Chief Chet Helms, head of MOT.

"We are going to do a grand opening of this craft in the spring. But it will actually go into full service in the next couple of weeks," Helms said.

"Everyone who will operate and serve on this boat has to take a stringent test. That's now underway," he said.

As with the operation of any water craft, one of the trickiest maneuvers is bringing it safely and correctly into dock. "It's proving to be a little more of a challenge in the training phase with this boat due to the crew getting a feel for the jet drive," Helms said.

THAT JET DRIVE also enables the boat to make a "crab" landing, consisting of bringing the boat in sideways to a dock, which facilitates both berthing options and as well as passenger and personnel access and exit. This allows for quicker dispatch of a potential victims to awaiting EMS land services.

For added expediency in docking during emergency situations the new fireboat is equipped with "push knees" on the bow. "This enables us to bring the boat directly into the dock bow first or push off from another boat without damage," Masser said.

"We also had it specially equipped with a tavit," Masser said. That's a swing arm on one side of the rear deck to facilitate lifting victims out of the water. "It may not be very attractive, but it can be a life saver," he said. It is complemented by a movable ladder to aid in rescue operations.

Before this acquisition, Alexandria Fire Department had a rescue boat. That 23-foot fiberglass Seahawk was traded in on this new fireboat, Helms said.

"The chief wanted us to get a true fireboat instead of just another rescue boat. This put us in a whole different world," he said.