SALISBURY – The Salisbury City Council voted this week to approve a bid close to $1 million for the purchase of a fire rescue boat to insure Salisbury’s busy port and its surrounding waterways of safety.
The Salisbury Fire Department (SFD) recently made an official request for the purchase of a Fast Response Fire/Rescue Boat. According to Fire Chief Jeff Simpson, the current department watercraft asset has limited capability and was not designed to meet the host of complex emergencies that could potentially protect the community that is located in the vicinity of the second busiest port in Maryland.
The suitable bidder, MetalCraft Marine, has constructed multiple watercrafts of similar specifications and design for fire/rescue operations in jurisdictions throughout the U.S and has a working contract with the Department of Navy.
Through negotiations, city staff was able to lower the vessels price to around $950,000. Internal Services Director Pam Oland explained that the previously approved ARRA Port Security Grant of about $900 thousand and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Grant of $50 thousand is recommended to fund the fire boat.
Councilwoman Terry Cohen began the discussion by bringing forth the public’s concerns.
“My experience going door-to-door was I didn’t have anybody who supported the purchase of this boat,” Cohen said.
Cohen said she has talked to a number of people including someone who had worked in ship yards, U.S. Coast Guard licensed captains, a host of people who have worked with government contractors and recreational boaters who all know what it costs to keep a boat in the water.
Cohen was concerned that startup and future costs to maintain the vessel were underestimated.
“The focus on costs has been on fuel and maintenance but there has also been training issues,” Cohen said.
Cohen asserted that the fire boats responsibility would cover a large portion of the Chesapeake.
“So if we are called upon and responding to the terms of this contract we are looking at a lot of fuel and a lot of wear and tear,” Cohen said. “Some people have raised concerns about the up keep of the boat.”
She said that the ongoing costs of the fire boat are estimated to be around $12,000, and in the past it has been suggested to take that money from the HAZMAT supply.
“We were told that the HAZ MAT was a must have,” Cohen said. “So we’re kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul to get the HAZMAT and now we got to borrow from that to keep the boat.”
Council Vice President Gary Comegys said that the SFD has never had a vessel designed to properly fight fires and serve rescues.
“Now an opportunity comes forward for the federal government to fund a project like this and put a vessel that is designed to do the job that the fire fighters have been doing for at least 30 years,” he said.
Comegys responded to Cohen’s concerns on training issues.
“They may have to do additional training,” he said. “But that is what the fire service does whether it is a new latter truck, or a new rescue truck. They train and learn how to operate equipment and they are pretty successful at doing it.”
Council President Louise Smith elaborated on the potential risks of Salisbury’s port that would benefit from having a fire boat on hand. She said that Salisbury has three petroleum storage facilities, 15 million gallons of gas and fuel oil and six barges that are bringing in petroleum.
“Any home or business in the area, you can then fight a fire from two sides, from the water and from the land,” Smith said. “That is most important and you have the proper equipment to do it with.”
Cohen referred to past discussions on the purchase of the fire boat and the possibility to ask businesses that would benefit from the insurance of the vessel and the county to “chip in”.
She said that the owner of Chesapeake Shipbuilding had acknowledged seemed willing to assist the city.
Mayor Jim Ireton responded the council has always voted to move the purchase of the vessel forward and a list of questions was never presented.
“Our fire department goes to the county even with our fire trucks as well,” Ireton said. “I just don’t want to start all over again from scratch, a vote will be helpful.”
Cohen said that by the city not approaching businesses and the county for financial support feeds into Salisbury’s fiscal issues.
“I was always taught in sales that they may tell you ‘no’, but it will always be no if you never even ask,” she said.
Cohen said that she has heard this complaint from Salisbury’s citizens before.
“Why the city tax payer is get doubly hit and why is there no relief,” she said. “They weren’t just talking about the differential; they were talking about all these other things that take place like this.”
Smith called for the vote and the council voted 3-1 to approve the bid of MetalCraft Marine for the fire rescue boat, with Cohen in opposition and Councilwoman Deborah Campbell absent.