Fireboat Business Heats Up in the Northwest
Fireboats have been a vital part of waterfront security on the west coast since the late 1800's when the long, slender vessels of that era were driven by a single steam engine. By the 1920's, gasoline engines, with their quick start and easy operation, had replaced steam. A few of these riveted steel hulls served so well that many remained in service into the 21st century, re-powered with multiple diesel engines to provide propulsion, generate electricity, and power the pumps. Seattle's 1927 fireboat Alki was only recently retired, while Portland's 87-foot, 12,000-gpm fireboat David Campbell, built the same year, is still on-call, and may be the oldest active fireboat in the US.
The modern version of the traditional "big pumper" is a very different machine, with a wide hull to accommodate the powerful engines and pumps, and low-speed maneuverability to maintain position while firefighting. The navigation is now pinpoint thanks to GPS, and even when land is obscured by smoke, an infrared camera provides visibility in all light conditions – even on the smallest fireboats. The latest addition is the ability to counter "CBRNE" (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive) threats with pressurized compartments that allow de-contamination by shower and compressed air.
This year has seen a record number of fireboats of all sizes under construction in the northwest, thanks to various grants from FEMA (DHS). They cover the entire spectrum of design, from landing craft to catamarans, "fast attack" craft to "super pumpers," and demonstrate the many options available to suit different ports and waterways. The primary decision is between speed and pumping power.
Fast boats have aluminum planing hulls 30 to 70 feet long, capable of up to 40 knots with moderate pumping power. Pumpers have a steel displacement hull 80 to 110 feet long with a speed of 11 to 14 knots and immense pumping power. Because of their high cost, the biggest fireboats are usually designed specifically to suit the conditions of their home waters. The three big pumpers taking shape in Seattle all have steel displacement hulls, but the two designs differ in many respects.
Voith Schneider Propulsion for Long Beach, California
Propulsion on heavy fireboats is typically provided by conventional propellers with a bow thruster. But the two 108-foot by 35-foot by 15-foot fireboats Foss Maritime is completing in Seattle for the Port of Long Beach, California are exceptional in using Voith Schneider cycloidal drives. These are normally fitted on big escort tugs, but naval architects, Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, proved their value on the Port of Los Angeles fireboat delivered by Nichols Brothers of Freeland, Washington a decade ago. These three will be the only dedicated fireboats in the western world using the German-made drives, and among the most powerful.
The Long Beach pair each carry four Caterpillar 3512-C main engines, producing a total of more than 8,000 HP. Two engines are dedicated for pumping only, while two do double duty – propulsion and simultaneously adding more pumping power for a total of over 40,000 gpm. A pair of Cat C12 150-kW gensets provides the boats' electric power. The largest monitor will be capable of delivering 12,000 gpm at a 600-foot range. The other nine monitors range from 1,500 to 6,000 gpm. Top speed is 12 knots – sufficient for a compact port like Long Beach. The low-wash speed is eight knots and on-site endurance is five days.
"Fireboats are very specific to each port," explained Robert Allan, who has designed large fireboats for harbors all over the world. "All of our designs are driven by a port's needs assessment. We look at the hazards, the risks, the response times, and the pumping capacity needed for each location, using the NFPA's latest standards." The aluminum superstructures were pre-fabricated by Kvichak Marine Industries – also a fast-fireboat builder – across the Lake Washington Ship Canal from Foss Shipyard. The cost of each boat is more than $25 million.
San Francisco Replacing Two 50-Year Old Fireboats
The two fireboats currently protecting San Francisco's iconic waterfront gained fame when they restored pressure to the Marina District's water system after an earthquake in 1989. However, they were both built in the 1950's and since then, the Bay Area has grown into a major international hub for sea and air traffic. A FEMA grant allowed the San Francisco Fire Department to research a versatile design capable of responding to emergency situations from plane crashes in San Francisco Bay to the loss of water supply onshore.
Jensen Maritime Consultants, a Crowley company, is designing the 88-foot by 25-foot by 14-foot "super pumper" to be built in steel by Vigor Fab in Seattle beginning this fall. It will be capable of high-volume pumping, firefighting, rescue, emergency medical service, and supporting the city's auxiliary water supply system. Jensen will also manage the construction by ABS rules, but the vessel will not be classed.
Propulsion will likely be a pair of Cummins Tier III 750 hp QSK19-M's, turning conventional propellers. Top speed in full load condition will be 11.5 knots. A third identical engine is dedicated to the CounterFire ESF 300-550 fire pump, while each main engine can also be directed onto a 6,000-gpm fire pump on the front end. The deck plan features six Stang fire monitors and 28 manifold valves, for water and/or fire-fighting foam, capable of throwing a stream as far as 300 feet. In the normal mode, the vessel will pump 18,000 gpm of water at 150 PSI through two 3,000-gpm monitors on the bow and house top, two 1,500-gpm deck monitors and two 1,500-gpm under deck monitors.
In super-pumper mode, it will pump 6,000 gpm of water at 150 PSI through the forward monitors and 6,000 gpm at 300 PSI to provide water directly to shoreside fire mains. The pilothouse will accommodate three crewmembers. The deckhouse will accommodate four firefighters and four medics, and the deck will accommodate up to 60 evacuees. A large fuel capacity of 10,900 gallons and efficient engines will enable the boat to remain on scene for up to 90 hours without refueling.
Seattle's Re-Build of the Chief Seattle
Big fireboats aren't necessarily full displacement hulls. The Seattle Fire Department's front line boat for 30 years was the 96-foot Chief Seattle with an aluminum planing hull and a top speed of 20 knots –needed to cover Seattle's long shoreline. The fire department's confidence in this boat led to a complete rebuild and a 20-year life extension in 2013. The project was performed at Vigor Marine in Everett, Washington, managed by naval architects Guido Perla and Associates of Seattle.
The upgrade included the installation of six new engines, including two MTU 1,522 hp 10V 2000's for propulsion, which gave a top speed of 22 knots; two new 715-HP Caterpillar C18 DITA's, each driving 2,500 gpm fire pumps and two Northern Lights M65C2, 65-kW gensets. The main engines can also drive two additional 2.500 gpm pumps when moving at low speed, giving a total output of 10,000 gpm, compared to 7,500 gpm previously. The new superstructure houses a modern command center, with a remote-control monitor on the bow, under-wharf motorized monitors, plus three manual monitors. The Chief Seattle is now Seattle's primary freshwater fireboat and the outer shoreline is guarded by the 108-foot Leschi, designed by Jensen and built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington in 2007. The Leschi can pump 22,000 gpm and travel at 14 knots.
The Northwest's Canadian Connection
Seattle also had Jensen design a 50-foot "fast attack" boat in 2005 and contracted with North America's most prolific fireboat builder, Metalcraft of Ontario, Canada to build it. The city has returned to the Canadian company this year for another 50 foot boat – this time a standard FireStorm 50 model costing around $1.9 million. It is fitted with twin 3,000-GPM Hale pumps that produced nearly 7,000 gpm at full stream during testing. Power is provided by twin 915 hp Caterpillar C18's, driving Rolls Royce Kamewa FF 37 waterjets for a top speed of 44 knots, with a draft of only two feet.
The Port of Tacoma, 30 miles south, is also a Metalcraft customer, operating a 30-footer since 2012, and has ordered a new FireStorm 50 for fall delivery. Metalcraft claims its proprietary sea chest design increases reliability and efficiency. It places the biggest remotely-operated monitor on the pilot house close to the center of buoyancy to reduce its effect on the boat's heading. (The Canadian company has delivered many craft to west coast ports, including five in San Diego.)
Vancouver Chooses Multi-Purpose High-Speed Design
The Vancouver Fire Department is responsible for some 21 miles of waterfront on the north shore of the Columbia River that includes an international port, a large industrial park, two interstate bridges and one railway bridge. It also has a mutual aid agreement to respond to emergencies at Portland Airport on the south shore, but did not have a boat suitable for this role until Vancouver Fire, with support from the US Coast Guard, led an effort to improve maritime security along the entire Columbia-Willamette-Snake River system in 2010.
This resulted in a FEMA Port Security Grant of $2.5 million that paid for Vancouver's 46-foot vessel and two 30-foot response boats for Clark County, Washington and the Port of Astoria. After intensive research, Vancouver selected Munson Boats of Burlington, Washington to design and build one of its trademark aluminum landing-craft hulls fitted out to create what Battalion Chief Steve Eldred calls an "All hazard, quick response vessel." (It is named Discovery after the ship of English explorer Captain George Vancouver.)
Propulsion is provided by twin Scania DI13-77M diesels producing a total of 1,500 horsepower, coupled to Hamilton 364 waterjets giving a top speed of 32 knots. The vessel's third engine is a 380-HP Cummins QSB6.7 dedicated to running a Hale 80FCG 3000 gpm pump supplying three monitors, plus multiple hose connections on the front of the pilot house. Two 1,200 GPM monitors are located port and starboard at the bow, and one remote operated 2,200 GPM Scorpion EXM Monitor on the roof. A small Onan 9MDKBK (9KW) gen-set is used to provide electric power at the dock or underway.
The open bow design gives the boat the ability to land on a beach, dock or launch area, lower the ramp, and deploy the equipment needed. For fire response, this is primarily to run hoses supplying river water directly to firefighters onshore, but other portable gear can also be carried ashore and additional fire crews delivered to the scene.
In a search and rescue or law enforcement role, especially on local islands that are popular with boaters and fishermen, the Discovery can land an off-road vehicle or 4x4, and injured people or survivors can easily embark. The boat's well deck is also useful for carrying oil booms, supporting divers, retrieving swimmers etc. A two-ton capacity MaxiLift crane allows the crew to lift debris or wreckage out of the water or hoist heavier loads on board.
Portland's Speedy Duo
The two new 50-foot boats for Portland built by Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, near Portland, combine an advanced hull shape with high-volume pumping and high speed. This allows these craft to protect the large investment along the lower 15 miles of the Willamette River, from apartment blocks in the city center to heavy industry and shipping terminals downriver towards the confluence with the Columbia River.
The grant also requires these boats to be capable of responding to emergencies on the Columbia, where the Port of Longview, Washington, 40 miles downstream, has no fireboat coverage. These boats could face more than an hour's travel at full power to reach a big blaze on the lower river, which requires a carefully engineered aluminum hull. With their extensive experience in high-speed military craft, OIW chose Donald L. Blount and Associates Inc. of Virginia to design the high-performance vessel. (Portland's design specification was originally drawn up by Jensen Maritime.)
Blount's solution is a 50-foot by 16-foot aluminum hull with high freeboard forward to accommodate an off-watch area and cabin for evacuees, and open work area on the stern deck. Propulsion is provided by twin MTU 8V2000 M84 engines each rated at 1,085 HP turning Rolls-Royce Kamewa FF450S waterjets. Top speed is predicted to be 40 knots, but the builders are maintaining confidentiality over the boat's proprietary features and performance.
For firefighting, each engine can be clutched onto a 3,500-gpm Hale fire pump to supply three monitors – two 1,500-gpm on the bow and one 4,000-gpm on top of the cabin, plus send water to fire fighters on shore via manifolds on the aft cabin bulkhead. Advanced technology on board includes fully-integrated helm, waterjet and engine controls, plus automatic compensation for the thrust of the monitors. "We have designed an electronic control system that includes bucket position for the waterjets, nozzle position, interceptor position and engine rpm, and is very easy to handle," explained Josh Pruzek, vice-president marine division of OIW. The first boat was undergoing trials in July prior to delivery; cost is about $2.5 million each.
A Pair of North River Boats
Two thousand ships transit the Columbia every year, but no fireboats have been based on the 110 statute miles of the lower river for over a decade. This situation was rectified this year when the remaining $900,000 from the FEMA grant paid for two 30-foot fast boats to be based in Astoria at the river's mouth and Ridgefield, 16 miles downstream from Vancouver.
Both boats are Sounder models from North River in Roseburg in southern Oregon. Propulsion is provided by powerful twin 300-hp Yamaha V-6 outboards that give a fast-cruising speed of 30 knots and a maximum of 40 knots. Pumping power comes from a V-8, 5.7-liter, Kodiak 350 engine marinized in Tualatin, Oregon. It turns a Hale 1,500-gpm pump that supplies a 1,250-gpm remotely operated Task Force Tips monitor on the bow and a Crossfire 1250 gpm monitor on the stern. Two portable hand-held foam sprayers are stored in the pump-engine compartment under the stern deck.
Both boats have an overall length of 37 feet including the engine guard and bow knees and a beam of nine feet, six inches. The grant requires that they can be trailered to a distant marine emergency, and they can be employed in other uses such as search and rescue and surveying – this gives the crew more opportunities to train. They can communicate over the noise of the engines via Fire Com headsets, and comfort is provided by four Bentley Mariner suspension seats.
The advanced electronics on the Astoria boat, named Trident, consist of a Simrad package of radar, AIS and side-scan sonar, plus a Department of Homeland Security net radio that inter-connects with all national emergency systems. All lighting is LED. The Astoria boat is kept out of the water on a Jetdock floating boatlift to avoid fouling of the hull and reduce underwater maintenance.
Scappoose Gets Its Own Boat
A third 30-footer arrived on the Columbia independently this spring. The Scappoose Rural Fire District, 30 miles downstream from Portland, found a cut-price way to acquire a modern fast boat: they bought a used ten-year old Metalcraft 30-foot jet boat from Alexandria, Virginia for $450,000. It was re-powered with twin 300-hp IVECO diesel engines, which also pump water at a rate of 1750 gpm.
The boat is based at the west end of the Multnomah Channel, parallel to the Columbia, where 16 marinas are located. This is the first modern boat this area has seen and a spokeswoman with SRFD said the local houseboat residents were excited to see the new boat out training. It is also able to travel at high speed, while creating only a six-inch wake. "It took many hours of training before we were ready to respond with the boat," Lt. Josh Marks pointed out.
Port Townsend Buys Local with a Lee Shore Fireboat
The northwest Washington town of Port Townsend (famous for wooden boats) also acquired a new boat by an unusual route. It chose a local builder, Lee shore Boats of Port Angeles, to build a 33-foot aluminum fireboat to an ER33 Argus design by Canada-based ER Workboats. Two 250-HP Yamaha outboards power the vessel to a top speed of more than 45 knots, while a 330-HP marinized 5.7 liter Chevrolet gasoline engine provides a pumping capacity of 1,250 gpm at 125 PSI. The boat also has a unique diverter system that splits water between waterjet propulsion and an outlet in the stern to provide a low-speed, prop-free method of propulsion. This will enhance safety in very shallow water, when retrieving divers or rescuing casualties.
Moose Boats Catamaran Fireboat to Bellingham
Moose Boats, in the San Francisco Bay Area, was awarded a contract in July from Bellingham Fire Department in northern Washington for construction of an 38' M2 aluminum catamaran for emergency response and recovery. Moose had previously delivered a similar design to West Pierce Fire and Rescue in University Place, Washington in 2013. The new boat will be powered by twin Cummins QSB6.7 425-HP turbo diesel propulsion engines coupled to Hamilton HJ292 water-jets via TwinDisc 5075SC marine transmissions.
The engines will also turn Hale 1,000-gpm fire pumps and will be capable of pumping water at more than 2,750 gpm while maintaining full maneuverability. The dual pumping arrangement offers complete pumping redundancy should one pump become disabled. Equipment carried includes an on-board foam storage tank, dual monitors, multi-threat detection equipment and CBRN positive pressure cabin air filtration. Cruise speed is 30 knots with a range of 300 miles on a 300-gallon tank. Top speed of the boat is 35 knots and displacement is 18,000 lbs. The 13-foot, 6-inch beam makes this hull very stable with wider decks and cabin.