Discovery, Vancouver Fire's quick response boat, dedicated today

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter


Updated: May 16, 2014, 9:05 PM


If you go

What: Fire, Heart Health and Water Safety Fair. The event includes opportunities to check out Discovery, plus learn about water safety, fire prevention and "hands only" CPR.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Vancouver Landing on the Columbia River, west of 110 Columbia St. and the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at The Quay.

Cost: Free.

The Vancouver Fire Department’s new $1.59 million quick response boat, Discovery, was dedicated Friday during a celebration that included speeches from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Bruce Jones.

Discovery was one of three boats purchased with a $2.66 million Federal Emergency Management Agency port security grant. The other, smaller, boats belong to Clark County Fire and Rescue and the Port of Astoria, Ore.

Discovery, a 46-foot-long boat named after Capt. George Vancouver’s vessel, is equipped to respond not only to fires but medical calls, chemical spills and search-and-rescue missions. It will also play a critical role in supporting port security, Jones said.

“Our communities are safer, thanks to the Discovery,” Jones said.

Discovery will routinely respond to incidents between Caterpillar Island and Camas. Because it was paid for by a federal grant, it could be called to help anywhere from Astoria, Ore., to Lewiston, Idaho, he said.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt told the crowd of approximately 150 people at Vancouver Landing the boats were an example of successful bistate partnerships.

“The results are tangible, not to mention pretty darn cool,” Leavitt said.

Work began in 2009 on securing the money, which was a joint effort by the U.S. Coast Guard, Clark County Fire and Rescue, Portland Fire and Rescue, the Vancouver Fire Department and the Port of Astoria.

Murray was credited with leading a fight against FEMA and winning two grant extensions. The project was held up for various reasons, including when a portion of the Interstate 5 bridge over Skagit River collapsed last year and materials couldn’t get to the Burlington company that built Discovery. In November 2012, FEMA denied a request for an extension then reversed itself after receiving a letter from Murray, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

In 2013, FEMA granted a second extension.

Murray said she was thrilled Friday to attend Discovery’s dedication, and “I am thrilled I don’t have to send (additional) angry letters to FEMA.”

In all, Murray sent three letters to the agency. She said she argued the boats would add a versatile security response in a populated riverfront area that includes an international airport and seaports.

All three letters were co-signed by Cantwell, and two letters were co-signed by Wyden and Merkley.

While no local money was used to purchase Discovery, Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said there will be upkeep and operations expenses. He said 21 businesses have donated more than $400,000 so far for the cause.

Steve Eldred, battalion chief for the Vancouver Fire Department who oversees special operations, said the FEMA grant included money for the vessels, training, equipment and management for the grant. Discovery cost $1.59 million, while Port of Astoria’s boat cost $367,483 and Clark County Fire & Rescue’s boat cost $368,747, Eldred said.

Jones, of the Coast Guard, said he wanted two smaller boats that can be towed and put into the water where needed.