“This boat is designed to be unsinkable,” said Bayonne Fire Chief Greg Rogers, describing the department’s latest addition to its fire fleet. “The hull itself is fully sealed. It has no bilge. Any water that builds up on the deck will run off the deck. This boat is the equivalent of what the United States Coast Guard uses for rescue, so it has been sea tested and specially designed to deal with the roughest of waters. And I can tell you it’s going to make a major difference for us in the fire service being out in the rough Kill Van Kull in this rather than being in the old boat which was just a small 17-footer. That was like being in a bottle cap out there.”
The city took possession of a new fire rescue boat on July 19, increasing its capacity to handle on-water rescue and fire situations. Using a $228,196 grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, the City of Bayonne purchased a 27-foot weapon of mass destruction rescue vessel from Safe Boats International of Bremerton, Wash.
The fireboat, which replaces a 17-foot 30-year-old Boston Whaler, will not only be able to help rescue stranded boaters and other rescue situations on the water, but also it will also detect biological and chemical weapons that might be used by potential terrorists.
New equipment for safer rescues
The new boat is 27 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 10,000 pounds. Rogers explained the upgraded equipment that makes the water vehicle safer and easier to use in a rescue situation.
“It is a very stable, very solid platform that we’re going to be able to use for rescue,” he said. “It has a patent technology in its wrap-around collar. Most people think this is inflated with air like you might see in a raft, but it’s not. It’s filled with solid foam. Its purpose is not only to stabilize the vehicle during turns, but also stabilizes the vehicle during rescue efforts. You’ll see there is a depression in the collar itself allows us to literally get down to the water to make a rescue.”
This means that fire fighters will no longer have to hoist rescued victims over the high side of the boat.
The boat also has radar, a depth finder, weather station, GPS technology, and a thermal imaging device that can detect people in the water up to two miles away.
“In the past, if we were on the water at night and had to pull someone out of the water, it was very difficult to find them. We would have to use spotlights and so forth,” Rogers said. The new boat and its technology will make rescues much easier and quicker.
Known as The Peninsula City, Bayonne has water around 90 percent of its borders, according to Rogers. But when looking for a new fireboat, “It was also important to be conscious of the city’s economic situation, which means the need to find grant money to pay for it,” Rogers said. “We pursued grants and applied for a Ports Security Grant.”
“The primary function of the vessel will be rescue,” Rogers said. “We will also have the ability to handle suppression and extinguish pier fires and fires along the shore line which was always a difficult task in the past.”
It will also handle grass fires and boat fires, as well as other emergencies that might be encountered on or near the water. Previous to this, the fire department would have to use land-based vehicles to fight shoreline fires. The new boat allows the fire department to fight these blazes from the waterside as well.
“It’ll be fully equipped … to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, which is big, I’m sure, in the eyes of the federal government, especially in this area, being the 25-mile hotbed of terrorism,” noted Rogers.
“We will now be able to provide a higher level of protection in waterways surrounding Bayonne.” – Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell
Called Marine One, the boat will have three crews cross-trained to operate it.
“We’re going to cross-train three different crews in case one crew is not available,” Rogers said. “For the most part, it will be the responders from the 16th Street Fire Station. They’re the ones who currently house our older 17-foot boat. This will now be their primary response vessel.”
The fire department will also have a second boat on call.
“There was a subsequent grant a year later which offered us an opportunity to get a boat for backup and it came with no match and naturally we accepted,” he said. “It will serve as a back up for our response also serve to augment this boat if there is an emergency event out on the water.”
While the old whaler boat was responsible for a number of rescues, Bayonne – which Rogers said likes to be able to handle its own situations – sometimes had to rely on backup from other agencies such as the Port Authority or the New York City Fire Department.
“We take great pride in taking care of our own affairs and putting out our own fires,” he said. “We take responsibility for what goes on on our waterfronts and we’ve had numerous rescues in the past.”
“I was assigned to the fire boat when I was a young firefighter and personally involved a number of rescues myself,” Rogers added.
Commitment to safety
Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell said, “We will now be able to provide a higher level of protection in waterways surrounding Bayonne, which is a peninsula. In light of recent accidents that happened, we will be able to respond safely and effect any time of rescue.”
O’Donnell, a former firefighter, served for a time on the old boat and said, “It wasn’t built for the kind of things we encounter now. This is a boat that will be here for 20 or 30 years, hopefully.”
Mayor Mark Smith said, “This is a demonstrative example of this administration’s commitment, not only to the city of Bayonne but to the fire department and public safety in general,” Smith said. “We made significant investments in our fire service and our police service via training, new equipment or new facilities.”
Deployed on the water for fast response
“We’re negotiating with a marina now – probably Robbins Reef – to have the boat located there,” Rogers said. “This will be in the water all the time so it won’t have to be trailed and deployed. That will cut our response time.”
He said they hope to have the boat in the water some time in August.
“Quite a few things have to be done yet,” he said. “We need to equip it; we need to test it. It needs to be registered and so forth. We have to secure the berth.”