By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON -- On board for a fire boat demo run Friday, Clinton Fire Chief Mike Brown said his thoughts kept coming back to the advantages new technology will lend to river safety.
Just last December, safety personnel used the fire department’s current boat on an incident involving a potential bridge jumper on the South Bridge. The man never jumped, but had he, Brown thought about how much better the rescue would have gone if he was brought into a pressurized cabin providing optimal warmth.
That’s one bonus of having a state-of-the-art vehicle under the control of the city. Others include enhanced sonar for recovering bodies; a more capable hose better equipped to quell fires; and U.S. Coast Guard-recommended technology in the event that a national emergency threatens the Mississippi River.
And, for Brown, there is the fact that nearly all of the costs for purchasing the boat are grant funded. He’s currently working with local entities to make the buy 100 percent-funded, meaning no city dollars would go into the upfront costs.
“This isn’t something where we had this wishlist to buy a big fire boat,” Brown said. “We were actually approached by the Coast Guard. They encouraged us to go for this grant that would make a purchase 75-percent funded. Because of the critical infrastructure we have from the river, they encouraged us to apply for the grant.”
The chief joined a company executive from Lake Assault Boats, members of the Clinton Police Department, city administration and fire personnel to test run the demo boat. They received a tutorial on some of the sonar technology they’ll utilize when their new boat arrives near the end of summer. And they observed the high-powered hose that dwarfs what the department currently has access to on the river. The hose can squirt 3,000 gallons per minute.
The difference between Friday’s demo boat and what the fire department will obtain is size and capability. Brown estimated the boat Clinton will receive is bigger by about 4 feet on each side and offers a warm cab for chilled rescuees.
“You can see the advantages of this type of equipment,” Brown said.
He added the department has endured some criticism for approaching the city with the purchase. Clinton fire has approximately five river emergencies per year, Brown estimated -- a statistic that doesn’t portray a pressing situation.
“No we haven’t had any big fires on the river this year,” he said. “But our line of work is kind of like the old Boy Scout motto -- be prepared. It doesn’t mean we don’t prepare, train or have equipment in place.”
He pointed to the fact that the Coast Guard has pushed for grants allowing the equipment to exist in town. This is technology that fulfills a need for multiple agencies, Brown said. And there’s a good chance none of the $600,000 estimated price tag will cost taxpayers.
The city currently is in the process of developing specs in order to go for bid on the project. That proposal will then go before the City Council for approval, with a public hearing on the bids coming this summer.
If everything moves forward rapidly, Brown said the purchase could be made by the end of the summer.
When the boat comes, it would be the eighth such vehicle located between St. Louis and Minneapolis.