Horry County Fire Rescue will pay $112,000 for a used fireboat despite the rough budget year for the county. County officials say the down economy worked in their favor this time, because a new boat would have cost more than three times what they paid.
The department bought a used fireboat from a government auction Web site to help put out shoreline fires and deal with offshore emergencies. Public safety officials said the county has been in the market for a fireboat for several years because of the large number of marinas and boats in the area, but the cost of a new boat was preventing the purchase.
“Like everyone looking at budgetary cuts, one of [Orange Beach’s] choices was to sell their fireboat. I get a $400,000 boat for $110,000 and that’s a good deal for Horry County,” said Horry County Public Safety Director Paul Whitten. “We have no way to get to emergencies out at sea, and we’re not trying to duplicate U.S. Coast Guard services. By ocean, it would take their boats a few hours to get to something here and I don’t think most of their boats have firefighting capabilities.”
Funding for the boat, which cost $112,000 to buy, plus the expense of transporting it from Orange Beach, Ala., this weekend, will come from money left over from capital improvement projects completed under budget and funds from a passenger fee for casino boat passengers instituted by the county last year.
Whitten said the money was specifically designated for capital improvements, which includes firetrucks or boats, but couldn’t be used to bolster the operational expense coffers used to pay salaries and hire personnel. New boats can cost millions of dollars for larger models and about $400,000 for smaller boats. The used boat needs a few maintenance measures, Whitten said, but even with the cost of transporting and maintaining the boat, it was a third of the cost the county was expecting.
Fire Rescue Chief Garry Alderman said the department has been in the market for an ocean-ready fireboat since a boat fire in 2001 at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club occupied 60 firefighters for more than three hours and ended with five boats and a portion of the dock destroyed. Since then, there have been several high profile boat accidents and other smaller boat fires, including a nighttime fire in 2007 that destroyed two boats in a marina.
Horry County Fire Rescue has a flat-bottom boat that it can trailer tow to emergencies, but it doesn’t have the speed for the ocean and by extension lacks the ability to get into most marinas. It also has a lower pump capacity than the newer boat, meaning it can pump more water per second at a higher pressure.
“Right now we have absolutely nothing that can go out in the ocean. It will make it so much quicker to go out to say a casino boat if someone gets sick.
“Right now we have to wait until it comes back and that could take an hour,” Alderman said. “With the amount of marinas and boats in those marinas this will be quite a positive. And with the number of boat and Jet Ski accidents, this boat will be used quite a bit for medical calls too.”
Petty Officer Dan Amen with the U.S. Coast Guard Georgetown said the fireboat would be an asset for the county.
“For us to respond to any type of fire event on the water it does take quite a while. And we only have one asset with firefighting capabilities,” Amen said.
“It would be a great asset for Horry County to have a fireboat available.”
Both the Georgetown City Fire Department and the Midway Fire Department own fireboats. Midway spokesman Bob Beebe said his department’s boat isn’t a standard fireboat with a built-in pump, but a rescue boat for transporting resources, personnel and injured people to and from Sandy Island and other water areas, with a portable lower pressure water pump to assist in fires.
“Since we got it, we haven’t technically used it as a fireboat. We have used it for rescues,” Beebe said. “We get the equipment and sometimes the taxpayers go ‘Wow, those two trucks cost $1 million? Do you need them right now?’ Well, not at this minute … but when you call 911 you want that equipment to be there. It’s about being ready.”
Georgetown City Fire Battalion Chief Travis Douglas said his department has used the fireboat for several boat fires, for hazmat calls involving boats and as a supplement to trucks when a structure fire happens on the shore.
Alderman said the boat will be housed in the Little River firehouse until the maintenance is done.
He said he’s working on finding a marina that will house the boat after that. The firehouse, which is a volunteer station right now, will be converted into a full-time, staffed station with trained divers by January, Alderman said.