In Our View: Improving River Safety

Local fire and rescue agencies scorebig triumphs in securing federal grant

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Congratulations to the Vancouver Fire Department and Clark County Fire & Rescue for scoring major victories recently in federal funding for vital public-safety marine craft serving the lower Columbia River.The $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Coast Guard will pay for three large, high-tech law enforcement and rescue boats that will help dozens of local and state jurisdictions from the mouth of the Columbia River to 130 miles upstream. It’s a tribute to local law enforcement agencies that two of the three boats will be stationed here. (The third new boat will be based in Astoria, Ore.) Both of the new local boats will mark huge upgrades for the local agencies.

For the Vancouver Fire Department, the new 45-foot vessel will be more than twice as large as the existing government surplus response boat that was purchased from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department. The new boat will travel up to 45 mph, compared with the old boat’s top speed of 18 mph. Vancouver’s southern boundary includes 20 miles of Columbia River waterfront.

For Clark County Fire & Rescue, the new 30-foot response boat also will be twice as large as its current vessel bought on surplus eight years ago.

For both local agencies, the new grant -- which is pending Federal Emergency Management Agency approval in 30 to 60 days -- will mean emergency-response boats with more room for patients and crew, water pumps to fight fires from the river, and faster access to incidents requiring law enforcement and rescue operations.

Another measure of how significant this is for local agencies: They were among the many fire and law enforcement organizations from two states that participated in federally funded needs assessments.

The new boats are called Quick Response Vehicles, and the grant will pay for the boats, initial training and equipment including communications, radar and navigation.

Among the boats’ many capabilities are responding to medical emergencies on the river, transporting multiple patients and deploying trained responders.

In a prepared statement, Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said the new grant “is about collaboration … . Our working relationships don’t stop at city and state borders.” From the county’s perspective, Fire Chief Dennis Mason said the grant will “allow all of us in public safety to work more closely together -- maximizing all of our assets and efficiencies.”

That new boats will be staffed with existing fire and rescue personnel, who are cross-trained as specialty responders on both land and water.

Here’s another advantage to the new grant: It triggers local participation by private-sector interests. A recent Columbian story by Paul Suarez reported that local business owners have said they’re willing to make in-kind or cash contributions to support the overall river-rescue program.

Beautiful as it is, the Columbia River is deadly. Popular as it is for recreational boaters and anglers, it’s crowded with potential problems. We urge swift approval of this grant by FEMA, so the myriad of challenges can be better addressed, and public safety on the river can be enhanced.