WILKES-BARRE — The city’s newest piece of life-saving equipment is equipped with everything from an on-board radio to a fold-down rescue ladder, enhanced console and a jet outdrive.
If all that sounds like a salesperson’s jargon, consider this: The new, $30,791 rescue boat replaces a 35-year-old craft that swayed precariously when firefighters leaned over to reach a Susquehanna River victim, was difficult to maneuver in flooded streets and required crews to carry walkie-talkies that could barely be heard over its growling old motor.
“As more and more people enjoy the River Common for boating, fishing and kayaking, as well as successful events like the dragon boat racing during River Fest, we need the capability to respond quickly to an emergency on the water,” Mayor Tom Leighton said as the boat was unveiled at the Nesbitt Park Boat Launch on Thursday morning.
The department responds to between 10 and 15 water rescue calls each year, said Fire Chief Jay Delaney.
“We don’t go out a lot, but we do have to have the right equipment,” Delaney said.
The newly acquired craft has the ability to maneuver not only along the Susquehanna — deceptively calm on Thursday morning, the chief noted — but also through flooded streets, as the boat can operate in as little as 3 inches of water.
Clad in bright yellow helmets and life jackets, EMTs William Court and Joseph Polacheck took the boat out onto the river Thursday morning, zipping back and forth between the Market Street and Veterans Memorial bridges before stopping midstream to demonstrate one of its most important features: a retractable metal platform that folds down into the water like a ladder so rescuers can safely reach out to victims.
Up to five firefighters and their gear can safely be carried aboard the boat, the chief said. Its design, including the retractable platform, will prevent near-tragedies like one earlier this year, in which the old boat nearly capsized as crews reached over the side to rescue a person in the river.
The boat was paid for with federal Office of Community Development funds, Leighton said, and its purchase brings the total of new fire department equipment purchased in recent years to nearly $1 million.
City Council approved the purchase of the Rescue ONE Connector Boat from Mid Atlantic Rescue Systems of Maryland. Leighton pointed out the same model chosen for use here also was purchased by the cities of Bethlehem, Allentown, Easton and Binghamton, N.Y.
“There is not another rescue boat like this one in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” he said.
The boat arrived on Tuesday, said Delaney, and Thursday’s outing was only its second foray into area waters. Firefighters and paramedics will receive training on the new craft over the next two weeks, he said.
While the old craft has its drawbacks, officials said it will be kept in reserve, in case it’s ever needed.