Grant to buy boats for crisis response

County, Vancouver could add capacity on Columbia River

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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The Vancouver Fire Department and Clark County Fire & Rescue are one step closer to getting new boats to help with emergency responses on the Columbia River, thanks to a federal grant.

The U.S. Coast Guard awarded a $2.7 million grant to purchase three new boats to be stationed along the lower Columbia. Two will be stationed in Clark County; the third will go to the Astoria, Ore., Fire Department. The boats, called Quick Response Vehicles, should improve the ability to respond to medical emergencies on the water, transport multiple patients and deploy more trained responders, according to a City of Vancouver press release.

If FEMA gives the final approval, Vancouver will list the requirements for what will be about a 45-foot boat. Ship-builders would then get to bid on the project, said Division Chief Steve Eldred, head of emergency services for the Vancouver Fire Department.

Proposed capacity

Eldred said the size of the boat would depend on bids, but it should be about twice as big as the department’s current boat, which was bought on surplus eight years ago and is meant to carry only two passengers. The new boat would have more room for patients and crew, a water pump to fight fires from the water, and the power to go faster, Eldred said.

Grant money would pay for the boat, initial training for staff and equipment (including communications, radar and navigation), Eldred said.

Local businesses said they would be willing to make in-kind or cash contributions to support the program, Eldred said.

The Vancouver boat would be staffed by existing crews based at a fire station, who would respond with an engine or a boat, depending on the call.

A county boat

Clark County Fire & Rescue Chief Dennis Mason said his organization will be looking for a 30-foot boat to be docked in Ridgefield.

Like Vancouver’s, the boat would be an upgrade for the organization, which has a 19-foot boat bought on surplus from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

The new boat would have on-board firefighting capabilities and better rescue capabilities, Mason said.

Mason said it will probably be 30 or 60 days before FEMA gives the final approval for the purchases.