OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) fire-rescue boat is currently dry-docked and out of action while officials explore options to replace a “blown motor.”
Since 2013, the OCFD’s fire-rescue boat, moored at its berth along the bayside at 13th Street, has been an important weapon in the department’s arsenal. However, during an emergency response in the ocean in mid-August during one of the vessel’s two inboard motors blew. The fire-rescue boat has been dry-docked as department officials consider the most efficient and economic way to get it back in the water and into service.
“The fire boat is currently and temporarily out of service,” said OCFD Chief Richie Bowers this week. “It has a blown motor and we’re looking into all of the options.”
Assistant Chief Will Savage said this week the fire-rescue boat blew an engine while responding to a reported parachute incident in August. The Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) and the Coast Guard also responded to the same incident, but the OCFD did not find any evidence of a parachuter in distress and returned to the dock, which is when one of the inboard engines blew. The crew was able to return the vessel to shore on one engine.
“We were making an emergency response on a request from the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP),” he said. “There was a report of a parachuter down in the ocean and we were responding to offer assistance.”
The fire-rescue boat was put into service in 2013. It has twin 350 horsepower diesel engines along with twin pumps for fire suppression that can pump 1,250 gallons per minute. It also has an integrated 25-gallon foam suppression system for flammable liquid fires. It also includes state-of-the art EMS and patient care equipment, on-board rescue swimmer equipment and dive team equipment.
The fire-rescue boat has the unique ability to respond to fire and EMS incidents in shallow areas not always navigable for larger fire boats.
The total project cost nearly $540,000 when the vessel was developed over a decade ago. Savage said the OCFD is exploring cost-efficient ways to get it back in the water, including replacing both boat engines.
“We’re looking at all of the options,” he said. “One of the twin inboard engines blew. What we know from experience is if one engine blows, likely the second one is not far behind.”
Savage said the department leadership is working with a consultant to determine the best path going forward. Perhaps the best option is replacing the two inboard motors with outboard motors.
“One of the options we’re looking at is replacing the engines with outboards,” he said. “Another option was to sell it outright, but that has been eliminated as an option because it wouldn’t be the best use of the taxpayer’s money.”
As far as the fire-rescue boat being dry-docked and out of service temporarily, the timing could be worse. The recreational boating season is largely dormant heading into fall and winter and the demand for the fire-rescue boat goes down in kind. Nonetheless, Savage said time is of the essence to make the repairs.
“The sooner the better,” he said. “I’d like to have had it done yesterday. It will be an undertaking with hull modifications needed, but it will certainly be available before next summer.”
Repairing the fire-rescue boat will come with a cost, obviously, but Savage wasn’t certain of the bottom line until all options are explored. The department is already seeking grant money to help fund the needed repairs.
“We’re exploring all of the options,” he said. “Right now, we’re working within our existing budget. We’ve applied for a state waterways matching grant and we’re hoping to get around $50,000 from that.”
The original plan for the fire-rescue boat dates back to April of 2008 when the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) commissioned a study to document the current waterborne fire/rescue responsibility and future needs of the OCVFC.
The study recapped several maritime fire and rescue challenges the OCFD faced, such as shallow and difficult navigation due to changing sandbars, heavy pleasure boat traffic in main channels during peak season, a densely populated shoreline with many buildings, numerous marinas and West Ocean City having a large opportunity for brush and marsh fires with limited access and hydrant water supply.
In July 2009, a Fireboat Workgroup was assembled that included representatives from OCFD, the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and the NRP, who were tasked with evaluating current OCFD marine resources, reviewing recommendations for vessel specs, coordinating with USCG and NRP to avoid duplication of capabilities and developing preliminary specifications and cost estimation to begin sourcing.
Moore Boats, a side project of Ocean City restaurateur Leighton Moore, was commissioned to develop the fire-rescue boat and donated much of the funding for the vessel, the boat lift and the dock at 13th Street along with High Tide Marine.