Bellingham Fire Department could get new fireboat with help from Homeland Security

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 25, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Bellingham Fire Department could get a new, $1 million fireboat that would double as a port security vessel if city and port officials agree to provide matching funds and accept a federal grant.

The fire department received a $750,000 grant for the boat from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that requires $250,000 in local matching funds.

Bellingham City Council members could formally accept the grant at their regular 7 p.m. meeting Oct. 28. City and port officials would continue to discuss how to match the funding after acceptance of the grant. The new boat could be operational as soon as fall 2015.

The port worked with the city to submit the grant, which is funded as part of a $93 million federal port security program. The program requires that the boat be used for security purposes in addition to fighting fires.

To be eligible for the grant, the plan had to address vulnerabilities identified by the Coast Guard, and enable the port to prevent, detect, respond and/or recover from attacks involving improvised explosive devices and other non-conventional weapons, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city decommissioned and sold its old fireboat, the Fire Belle, in late 2011, after officials decided it wasn't being used enough to justify its expense. The boat had been in operation since 1985.

Just five months after the boat was taken out of service, a fire in Squalicum Harbor took the lives of a Bellingham couple living aboard their boat at G Dock East, about a quarter mile from shore. That fire took hours to extinguish without help from the Fire Belle, and destroyed 10 other yachts and a series of boathouses.

If the city accepts the grant, planners would set to work designing the boat, which would likely be in the 30- to 38-foot range, about the size of the Fire Belle, said Fire Chief Roger Christensen.

"If you get too small of a vessel, the nozzle reaction will push the boat around and it can be hard to keep in place and fight a fire," he said.

The boat would likely be cross-staffed with an engine company, usually made up of three firefighters, who could drive an engine to the harbor, man the vessel, and make command decisions about how to fight fires in the marina and on land, Christensen said.

The city and port would work out the details of how the boat would be operated, where it would be housed, and discuss how to include necessary security and firefighting design elements, Christensen said.

Here are a few features Christensen said the boat would likely have:

-- Dual pumps that could each put out 2,000 gallons of water a minute.

-- Detection equipment to enhance port security.

-- Advanced rescue, navigation and communications systems.

This story was corrected Oct. 25, 2013, to reflect the port's participation in the funding.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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