New fireboat coming to Ridgefield Marina

Vessel, faster than old one, will be able to fight fires on Columbia River, rescue people

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Construction on Clark County Fire & Rescue's new fireboat and boathouse will start shortly after the new year, officials say.

CCF&R is one of three fire departments getting a new Quick Response Vessel for responding to emergencies on the Columbia River, thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Chief Dennis Mason is looking forward to the added resource at the Ridgefield Marina.

North River Boats in Roseburg, Ore., will build CCF&R's 30-foot boat, estimated to cost between $356,000 and $376,000. The agency's current boat is 17 years old, 19 feet long and doesn't have firefighting capabilities.

The new boat will be able to pump 1,000 gallons of river water every minute to fight fires along the waterfront. With a fully-enclosed cabin, the new boat can accommodate someone on a stretcher, along with four firefighters.

It will also come with a robust electronics package, including side-view sonar and a Forward Looking Infrared Radar system. FLIR allows firefighters to see underwater at night and detect body heat.

And this new vessel will be just plain faster than the old one.

For anyone trapped in the Columbia River, hypothermia sets in quickly, Mason said. Cold water robs the body of heat 25 to 30 times faster than air, according to the U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water.

"Speed is of the essence," Mason said.

Fire Commissioner Jon Babcock cites a May 2011 accident as an example of why timely response times to water incidents are critical.

On May 17, 2011, a woman lost control of her Dodge Durango SUV and crashed into the inside barrier of the northbound Interstate 5 bridge near Woodland. Laura Durham, 34, of Woodland stopped to help the woman. Durham's parked Ford Focus was sideswiped by a Chevrolet van and she was knocked over the guardrail into the Lewis River.

Despite a broken arm and two broken legs, she made it to the shoreline.

CCF&R's rescue boat was already in the water, on its way to assist another agency, when it was diverted to the bridge. If the boat hadn't already been in the water -- saving valuable time -- Babcock said the outcome could have been a lot worse.

Firefighters who are trained to use CCF&R's current boat respond to water rescues, boat fires, oil spills and grass fires along the shore. Their work isn't limited to the summer, as there is year-round activity on the river.

While the fire department hasn't tackled any major fires at waterfront property, CCF&R looks to the future; the city of Ridgefield and Port of Ridgefield plan to cleanup and develop the waterfront, with a 40-acre strip of shops, offices and plazas off Lake River.

The new boat will provide fire protection for those projects, Mason said.

Additionally, Ridgefield looks to have a public safety dock, exclusive to law enforcement and fire agencies, in an effort to increase the area safety and security.

The new Quick Response Vessel also gets a new home. The Paul B. and Debra D. Speer Fund, coordinated through the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, gave CCF&R $125,000 to build a house for their new vessel.

When the boat and boat house are finished, CCF&R plans to have a dedication ceremony.

The fire department is likely to sell its old boat or give it to another fire agency, Mason said.