To the rescue

Secaucus fireboat offers protection throughout Hudson County

Secaucus gets federal grant to buy a new fire boat that will benefit the region
Secaucus gets federal grant to buy a new fire boat that will benefit the region

A federal matching grant has enabled the town of Secaucus to purchase a new fire boat that will offer protection to its own residents as well as a number of other towns along the Hackensack River in Hudson County.

Thanks to an effort by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., and the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, Secaucus was awarded a $346,410 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The town council voted on Nov. 27 to provide an additional $120,000 to cover the additional cost for purchasing a land craft vessel from Lake Assault Boats in Michigan.

For many years, Secaucus was one of a handful of communities in the state with its own active marine division.

The boat currently used by the fire department was purchased from the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue in the early 2000s, a pumper boat with two hose connections that draws water out of the river to help fight fires.

“The old boat was purchased used,” said Secaucus Town Administrator Gary Jeffas. “We need the new boat.”

“We are able to purchase the boat because of the federal grant.”  Mayor Michael Gonnelli.

The new fire boat is expected to be delivered in the spring. It will replace the previous vessel but will continue to be docked at the Coast Guard Auxiliary facility under the Rt. 3 bridge off Meadowlands Parkway.

According to the manufacturer, the new boat will include more contemporary features such hydraulic bow doors, high-capacity pumps, versatile work platforms and high-performance, quick-planing hulls to reduce response times, increase performance, and ensure crew safety.

Service beyond Secaucus

The new fire boat will provide immediate service to wide areas along the Hackensack River. Secaucus itself accounts for more than 12 miles of river front, but the department also serves as a first responder to 14 bridges along the Passaic River and 14 bridges along the Hackensack River.

Gonnelli said Secaucus patrols the southern half of the Hackensack River, which includes portions of Carlstadt, East Rutherford, Kearny, Jersey City, and Bayonne, as well as some of the tributaries leading to places like North Bergen.

In the past, the Secaucus fire boat has helped pull people out of the water, or responded to various environmental problems along the Secaucus shores of the Hackensack as well as fires in North Bergen, Jersey City, Rutherford, and the Meadowlands.

Resources devoted to on-water enforcement have become severely stressed in recent years. More than a decade ago, the state police combined two previous jurisdictions and now cover an area that goes from Sandy Hook to Lake Hopatcong, leaving local services to respond to emergency situations.

Yet even before the state cut back on its services, state police patrols were infrequent, and complaints often fell onto the shoulders of the local communities. This meant Secaucus would send out its fire boat.

This included boaters in distress, onboard fires, as well as people in the water from over turned jet-skis, kayaks and such.

New Jersey waters are dangerous

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that New Jersey waters are among the nation’s most dangerous for boating, with among the highest number of reported recreational boat accidents and boating injuries nationally. These figures are particularly startling because New Jersey does not have a year-round boating season, nor are all its waterways used as fully for recreation as they might be.

There a lot of hazards in the waterways, such as debris in the water. Indeed, as the tide comes in, telephone pole-sized logs float in the fast moving water, any of which could break a prop and leave a boat helpless.

Also, there are many structures, such as bridges, train crossings and fuel tanks along the Hackensack, all of which could very easily pose a large-scale fire or even terrorism risk, local officials said.

The new fire boat also will become one more tool for all of Hudson County since Secaucus is part of the multi-agency New Jersey Regional Fireboat Task Force (NJRFTF), which is made up of 12 departments: Edgewater, North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne, Newark, Kearny, Elizabeth, Carteret, Linden and Perth Amboy.

The task force not only establishes an interagency communication and cooperation across the Port of New York and New Jersey, but also protects over 50 miles of New Jersey shoreline.

This includes critical infrastructure in the region such as transportation hubs, container terminals, marine oil transfer facilities, and chemical plants.

“These funds will go a long way in increasing firefighting capabilities in one of our nation’s largest transportation hubs,” said Rep. Pascrell.

Because the NJRFTF responds to all types of maritime emergencies including reports of people in the water, vessels in distress, fires, and hazards to navigation, the new Secaucus fireboat will likely be called on for responses anywhere in the county, but especially along the Hackensack River.

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