Boat boasts the latest in rescue technology

The Potomac River Rescue Association’s nautical fire fighting and rescue abilities cruised into the 21st century Saturday with the arrival of “Firestorm,” a 36-foot-long boat with astonishing capabilities.

Association spokesman Terry Hill said the boat’s attributes include a forward-looking radar system, night vision optics, a thermal imaging camera, radio direction finder, jet-drive diesel engines and a range of 750 miles on 300 gallons of fuel.

The boat can pump 2,400 gallons of water per minute and cruise at a top speed of 32 knots, which is about 40 mph, Hill said.

The average land-based pumper throws 1,800 to 2,200 gallons per minute. Fire fighters refer to the gallons per minute as “knockdown power.”

Chief Ricky Arrington, of Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department, said he considered Firestorm a huge asset to add to his department’s capabilities.

“It gives us a bigger knockdown. The faster we can knock down a fire, the more people we can save,” Arrington said of the Firestorm’s ability to pump water from the river and shoot it hundreds of feet to the shore.

Firestorm is also able to transport those injured in boating accidents in a heated, air-conditioned cabin that carries emergency medical and life-support equipment.

Hill said the ergonomically-designed boat will allow rescuers to bring the injured aboard with less jostling than any boat currently used in the area.

The gunwales at Firestorm’s stern float less than six inches above the surface of the water. Firestorm’s size also provides stability in rough water for safer transport, Hill said.

“You take a person with a back injury and try to remove them with one of these small boats we use now, you’re going to kill them,” Hill said.

“It’s going to protect our crews,” Arrington said after Hill pointed out that Firestorm can provide river water, much like a fire hydrant, to land based pumpers should the need arise.

The rescue association received a grant, administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, to purchase the boat designed by the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fired Department and MetalCraft Marine of Ontario, Canada.

“The federal government paid for it,” Hill said as he watched the $360,000 boat demonstrate its pumping capabilities from the middle of Neabsco Creek.

The grant will extend to pay for crew training as well, Hill said.

“By the time it’s all said and done, we’ll have half a million tied up in the boat and training. This boat is the equivalent of a pumper and an ambulance. It’s a mini firehouse,” Hill said.

Firestorm’s forward-looking radar, thermal imaging and night vision optics will make the boat a formidable piece of equipment for night operations, which until recently were conducted under search light beams, Hill said.

The equipment will help the boat move faster, and find people more quickly in the dark, Hill said.

The thermal imaging system can make a boat’s wake visible at night and allow operators to “see” a warm body in the water, Hill said.

“It’s going to pay for itself one night when we find someone floating in the water,” Hill said.

Additionally, the radio detection system can isolate radio waves which will help rescuers find accident victims in severe conditions with low visibility, Hill said.

“The guy can key his mike and the system is going to zero in on him,” Hill said.

Firestorm, which will be docked at Hampton’s Landing Marina at Neabsco Creek will serve Fairfax, Prince William and King George counties and Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and Charles and Washington counties in Maryland, Hill said.

“It can be in Occoquan, pumping water on a fire in 10 minutes and it could be in Mt. Vernon in less than 20 minutes. This thing flies,” Hill said.

Firestorm, which can operate in water as shallow as 21 inches, will also support the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Park Police, Hill said.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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