In a fire or rescue emergency, the time it takes to reach someone in danger can mean the difference between life and death. The Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) Fire and Emergency Services Division recently acquired a new fire and rescue boat that Battalion Chief Jimmy Ray said he hopes will "turn the tide" toward saving more lives.
According to Ray, the new, upgraded vessel has cut water emergency response time between APG South (Edgewood) and APG North (Aberdeen) by approximately one third.
The vessel has been operational for about two months and has already been used during six water rescue calls, including the rescue of four stranded boaters on Memorial Day. The new vessel served as a command post and all four victims survived.
"As of right now, we have the only marine response vessel located in Harford County," Ray said, adding that it's the only one that actually meets standards for a type five marine response vessel. Ray said the former emergency vessel was not considered a marine response vessel because it only met standards for those of a typical fishing boat.
"Basically, what we did, is turn a fishing boat into an emergency response vessel. It was not conducive to the customers' needs here on post," Ray said.
He said the upgraded boat was a necessity, because people tend to underestimate how much area the APG emergency vehicle covers.
"We have one of the largest response areas when it comes to shoreline. I know we have the largest in Harford County," Ray said. "More or less everything from Carroll Island [in Baltimore County] to Havre de Grace is essentially our water."
He said his team of boat operators, paramedics and firefighters are confident the upgraded response vessel will meet the needs of a vast and varied population that includes Team APG as well as local Harford County residents and tourists.
The new vessel, much like the old one, is equipped with emergency medical service equipment, but also includes a casualty bench that enables a paramedic to complete advanced life support skills on a victim inside the boat's cabin and away from the elements.
Ray said a paramedic accompanies every response call, to render aid to injured patients as well as to injured DES fire and rescue personnel.
"We always have a boat operator and paramedic on duty. It's always going to be staffed, 24/7, 365 days a year," Ray said.
The vessel runs on twin motor engines for improved handling and performance, Ray said.
Each of the motors acts as a backup in case one breaks down during a rescue. This makes for a big change; the former rescue boat's single motor often gave the team trouble.
"It's much easier now with twin motors; you can make that thing [boat] turn on a dime," Ray said.
"You can almost pivot right on the width of this boat if you wanted to," said firefighter Todd Nicodemus, vessel operator.
Ray said that while APG's emergency water vessel is mostly used for rescue missions, it is also equipped to respond to boat fires. Less common than other water emergencies, boat fires are often due to gas fumes building up in the bilge, the lowest compartment of a boat or ship. If a boat's exhaust fan is defective, then Ray said practically anything can turn the fumes into a fire.
The new vessel has enhanced firefighting capabilities, with an integrated pump and thru-hull system.
"There's a hole in the bottom of the boat that will actually be the water intake for the pump. We can get 500 gallons a minute out of it," he said.
Ray said the former emergency vessel had a floating pump that was burdensome and only provided approximately 100 gallons of water per minute with which to fight a fire.
Nicodemus, who recently attended a two-week boat operation refresher course, said he appreciates the vessel's modern technological upgrades, such as GPS and radar. He said the vessel's radar screen indicates a mass in the water at precise coordinates, improving the boat operator's navigational speed and accuracy.
"I already know where to look. It's much easier with good electronics," Nicodemus said.
Additionally, the vessel features a thermal night vision camera.
"If you come out here [on the water] at night, its pitch black. You can't see anything. But with the FLIR [Forward Looking Infrared] system, you can see everything in the dark, almost as if it was daylight," Ray said.
He said APG's water emergency rescue and fire team responds to an average of 20 to 30 calls a year, with the majority during the summer months. Most of these calls involve civilians who are simply out on a weekend enjoying their boat.
Although boating comes with inherent risks, Ray said boaters in the area should feel confident that their lives are in capable hands during an emergency.
"Boaters around here should feel very safe. We've got our stuff together," Ray said. "It's an awesome boat."