In Our View: Better Response on the River

Emergencies will be more swiftly answeredafter new federal grant takes effect



Powerful local partnerships can impress federal decision-makers in ways that enhance a community’s quality of life. And among many components in our local quality of life is river safety, including first responders’ ability to douse fires, save lives, help contain toxic spills and answer other emergency calls.In Southwest Washington, southern and western boundaries are defined by the Columbia River. This is a place where numerous recreational and residential marinas and moorages attest to our romance with the water. Heavy commercial marine traffic shows how much businesses need the river.

That’s why The Columbian extends high praise to the Vancouver Fire Department for working closely with Clark County Fire & Rescue, the Port of Astoria and the Coast Guard to secure a $2.6 million grant for enhanced emergency response on the river. The grant from the Department of Homeland Security awards one Quick Response Vessel (QRV) each to the city, the county and the Astoria port to respond to fires, medical calls, chemical spills and technical rescues.

The Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the grant Monday night. Bids will be solicited to build the vessels, which should be in the water in about a year. Initial training is included in the grant, but those costs will have to be taken over later by the local agencies.

Here are just a few reasons why this grant ranks high on the list of local good-news stories:

None of the local agencies could have accomplished this alone. As Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said earlier this year, grant success “is all about collaboration. … Our working relationships don’t stop at city and state borders.”

Nor could the public sector accomplish this alone. Knowing this, the Vancouver Fire Department obtained funding support from 80 private-sector partners, including one anonymous Port of Vancouver business that pledged $10,000 annually for 10 years.

Vancouver will replace a small marine response vehicle that has no fire-response capability with a 45-foot, state-of-the-art QRV that’s twice as big, twice as fast and packed with high-tech communication, radar, navigation and firefighting equipment.

Clark County Fire & Rescue will use its 30-foot craft to replace a smaller vessel bought on surplus eight years ago.

This grant answers a regional marine emergency response need that is so severe, a waiver was granted by the feds for a local match to the federal funding. Vancouver Fire Department gets about 100 emergency calls to the river each year, and before the current, small emergency response vessel was obtained, other boaters often were used for assistance.

Local and area economic development could be enhanced by obtaining this federal grant. A wide array of companies that depend on the river will be more apt to relocate to a community that has shown it is serious about modernizing its capacity to handle emergencies.

On a larger scale, national security will be enhanced. The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant was awarded through the federal agency’s Port Security Grant Program.

For these and other reasons, local residents should be proud of the fire department and other officials who organized the complex public-private network that is required to land such a large grant, and for turning an immense local need into a source of local pride.