KPFD gets new fire boat


Lance McMillan, Special to KP News

In an arrangement concluded at the end of January, a Motor Life Boat (MLB) was transferred to Key Peninsula Fire District 16. This highly capable, 44-foot-long aluminum hulled craft will provide Key Peninsula firefighters with the ability to respond to emergencies on the water in south Puget Sound. The MLB was the  property of the Washington State Department of National Resources and had been on extended loan to the Anderson Island Fire Department since 1999.

The opportunity to acquire the MLB arose when the Anderson Island Fire Department obtained a new fire boat and was looking for a way to dispose of its old one. Capt. Hal Wolverton of KPFD learned of the availability, and an agreement on the MLB transfer was finalized in about two weeks’ time, according to Division Chief Guy Allen. The main impediment to concluding the arrangement was convincing the District 16 Fire Commissioners. They wanted assurances that the boat was a good deal and that there would be no additional costs to taxpayers, Allen said.

The transfer process was actually free, but Allen acknowledges there are costs associated with operating the boat. He estimates the department needs to spend about $13,000 to bring the boat up to specifications and for initial crew training in the first year of operations. It will take about $11,000 to keep it running in later years.

“We plan to train up to 10 pilots,” said Allen, “and qualify most of our other firefighters as deckhands for the boat.” Pilots will complete an extensive training program, including obtaining U.S. Coast Guard Power Squadron and Radar Navigation certifications. Once initial standup training is completed in May, the plan is to conduct regular refresher training on a quarterly basis.

The boat design is based on a proven U.S. Coast Guard aluminum hulled Utility Tug Boat (UTB) with self-righting features for operations in high surf conditions. It is a 20-ton craft with a beam of 13.5 feet and draft of 3.5 feet. It is equipped with two Detroit 6V53, 185 HP, marine diesel engines that are capable of driving the boat at speeds up to 14 knots. It carries a 250 gallon-per-minute firefighting and dewatering pumps and is configured for — but not currently fitted with — a remotely operated water cannon in the bow. With a crew of four, it can carry up to 21 people onboard.

Although the KP Fire District has two jet-ski craft used for emergency life-saving purposes, the MLB, FD-16’s first large water-response craft, provides the local firefighters with greater water-borne response capability.

Even though the MLB isn’t officially operational yet, it has already responded to an emergency call. On a Saturday morning in February, KPFD received a call about a 21-foot catamaran that had come adrift from its mooring in Von Geldern Cove. It was threatening to strike the pilings of a house built out over the water. The MLB, with Capt. Wolverton at the helm and firefighters Tony Carr, Todd Vanscoyk, and Saul Wolverton assisting, was dispatched to tow the catamaran back to anchorage and reset its anchor.

The District plans to moor the MLB at the Longbranch Marina. In the event of an emergency call, a crew would likely respond from the Home Fire Station. Chief Allen estimates it will take between 12 to 15 minutes from receipt of a 911 call for the boat to get underway. “We’re guessing that MLB will be used for about a half dozen calls a year,” Allen said.