Florida Keys News
Monday, November 18, 2013
Fire Dept. wants 29-foot, $287K boat
Money already in the 2013-14 budget to replace decade-old vessel

The City Commission on Tuesday will decide whether to buy the fire department a 29-foot metal-hulled boat for $287,000, including delivery, to replace its decade-old fiberglass Boston Whaler that firefighters say is past its prime.

"We're basically trying to keep it operational for now until we can the new one," said Michael Davila, Division Chief of Operations, of the 25-foot Whaler.

Commissioners have already allocated $290,000 for the new boat in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget.

Delivery of the boat alone is estimated to cost $9,200, according to the 16-page quote drawn up by Safe Boat for the Key West Fire Department.

The boat, with a 250-gallon fuel tank that holds up to 17 people, starts at $122,000, with the trailer priced at $13,000 and the water pump system costs nearly $40,000.

"This isn't the cheapest but it's not the most expensive," said Davila. "The police department has a Safe Boat brand out in the harbor so we're familiar with the brand."

If approved Tuesday, the fire department expects to wait six to eight months before the T-Top boat with twin Mercury 300-horsepower outboard engines is delivered on a flat-bed truck by Safe Boat International, of Port Orchard, Wash.

Key West firefighters used their old boat a week ago to drown out an early morning houseboat fire off North Roosevelt Boulevard.

"We attacked it from both Hilton Haven Drive, which isn't much of an attack point, and from the Whaler," said Davila. "We use it probably a dozen times a year, primarily for medical transports. We use the fire boat to take our ambulance crews over to Sunset Key to pick up people or people on liveaboards."

Always kept in the water, the fire boat is docked at Garrison Bight, near the Harborside Motel on Eisenhower Drive. But it's home is directly across from 1600 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Firefighters moved it when the state reconstruction project began but Davila said they're close to returning the Whaler back to New Town.

The water pump drafts directly from under the boat where the mounted pump inside pulls in seawater. Spraying power can run as long as the fuel lasts.

"We have a wide range of missions for this boat and that's why we're going with Safe Boat brand," said Davila. "It's kind of a heavy boat because it's a metal hull, which is more costly upfront, but for the life of the unit it will save money because you won't have to replace it as often."

Safe Boat makes boats for the military along with police and rescue departments. Its fleet includes boats called "The Apostle," "The Defender" and "The Archangel."

The one Key West firefighters picked out after assembling a committee to study options and interview company representatives, is listed as a T-Top boat without a Top Gun-style name.

But it is a solid boat that will serve the island well, said Davila, a 27-year veteran of the fire department.

"The mission for this boat will of course be fire, but also medical rescue and a dive team will be assigned to it," Davila said. "We have a wide range of missions for this boat and that's what we're going with Safe Boat brand."

The commission meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, a retired fire chief, said Friday he expects the Safe Boat purchase to go through on Tuesday.

"It's like insurance," Wardlow said of having a fire boat on hand. "Every 10 years you turn over your equipment. It's paid for out of the gas tax, the capital fund, not from property taxes."

Key West didn't have its first fire boat until Sunset Key was developed into an upscale resort and neighborhood in the late 1990s. The city required developers to provide a fire boat and they did.

"Every week, fire or not, they go out to the island and check the equipment, because they have a truck there, too," said Wardlow.


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