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A floating firefighter: Lockport Township fire district boasts new boat

Updated: August 16, 2013 6:08AM



LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP — More than 200 years after Robert Fulton first put a steamboat on a river, Tommy Fulton was the first to pilot a new kind of boat locally on the Des Plaines River.

Fulton, Gary Martin and Kevin Pastore are the first three firefighters trained to pilot the new 32-foot Lockport Township Fire Protection District fireboat.

“Could the fire district justify needing a fire boat? No,” Fire Chief Dave Skoryi said. “Does the region need one? Yes.”

Along the Des Plaines River and Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal in this region are several fuel refineries, electric and nuclear power plants, and locks and dams. The need to protect that infrastructure is why the district applied five years ago for a federal port security grant to cover 75 percent of the vessel’s $620,000 cost. Additional funds came from partnerships with the Channahon, Joliet and Romeoville fire departments and private companies.

“This project is a dictionary version of cooperation between public and private agencies,” Skoryi said.

Harrah’s Casino, Exxon Mobil, Midwest Generation, Citgo Oil, Shell Oil, Canal Barge, Enbridge Pipeline, Kurtz Ambulance, Andres Medical Billing and Cottonwood Farms contributed funding for the boat.

Federally known as a CBRN response and recovery boat — for chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear incidents — firefighters hope the vessel will be used for more localized emergencies.

The pump on the bow of the boat can spray 2,200 gallons of water per minute on a burning riverside structure. Hoses can be connected so a ground crew can use the river as the water supply for any fire nearby.

“But that water flow is going to push the boat all over the canal, so it’s a dance between two guys,” Fulton said.

While one of the 440-horsepower motors is pumping water, a second operator uses the other to keep the boat in position so firefighters can hit their target.

The fire boat could be sent now in an emergency but will be “in service” once additional firefighters are trained as pilots.

Fulton said the 100 hours of training cover everything in marine operations, docking, crabbing and “stopping on a dime.”

“It’s actually easier training for someone not used to inboard and outboard motors because it’s jet-driven, not propeller,” Fulton said.

With crew and equipment, the Lockport fireboat has a top speed of 34 knots.

The vessel has radios for all the fire departments, a computerized GPS display and infrared equipment for night operations.

Skoryi said the dive teams love the lowered platform at the stern.

“Divers have had to be pulled out or crawl up onto the rubber rafts (currently used), but this has a ladder that goes right into the water,” he said.

Fulton said having a boat that other boaters can easily see has also made dive operations safer.

The boat also could be used for boom deployment in case of a chemical spill on the waterway. It will be kept at Hanson Marine and used anywhere between Lake Michigan and the junction of the Illinois and Missouri rivers.

“If any agency along the river calls for it, we’re going to send it,” Pastore said.



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