NORWALK, Conn. – A man hanging off the side of a capsized sailboat in Norwalk Harbor got some unusual help recently when a new $660,000 rescue boat arrived with the usual fire rescue boat.
Aboard the new craft, paid for by taxpayers across America, were two men representing the manufacturer, on hand to teach Norwalk firefighters how to handle its twin jet motors.
The 42-foot-long, 12-foot-wide rescue boat was out in the harbor on a training mission when a report was called in about the capsized sailboat. The rescue boat arrived six minutes later, Deputy Police Chief Chris King said.
It was ordered in 2009 and fully paid for by a Port Security Grant through the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Norwalk Fire Department Lt. Steve Popadoulos said. It was shipped from Oregon and delivered to Cove Marina two weeks ago.
"What they're trying to do overall is take the responsibility off the Coast Guard," firefighter Phil D'Acunto, captain of the boat, said of the federal program. "Since 9/11 they're trying to get the Coast Guard back to guarding the coast."
Federal authorities have realized that municipalities have the manpower to deal with rescues and environmental spills but did not have the equipment, he said. That is changing with the awarding of grants "all up and down Long Island Sound."
Norwalk was one of the first communities to get a grant, because it already had a marine division, Popadoulos said. The federal government provides the money, but each boat is custom ordered by the department winning the grant.
Norwalk's boat features three nozzles for spraying water onto fires and storage space for 2,000 gallons of water. "We have a lot of marinas here, so the potential is higher for bigger incidents," D'Acunto said. "We want to move more water."
It features two 425-horsepower motors and a pressurized cabin. Firefighters can go into a hot zone, close the vents and turn on the filtration system, taking readings of the air outside via two intake valves.
Greenwich has ordered a combination police/fire/EMS boat with the same grant, D'Acunto said. It will have one nozzle for firefighting, and a gun locker in the space the Norwalk boat is using for a bathroom.
Norwalk firefighters say their new boat will allow them to fight fires on the Norwalk Islands and rescue anyone involved. There is space in the cabin for seven people to sit, in addition to the four-man crew. Or a patient can lie prone with an IV line hanging from a hook in the ceiling.
Norwalk had no firefighting capability on the water for two years when its police boat was sent to be refurbished. Before its refit it had one nozzle, D'Acunto said, and firefighters pile on with all their gear. He said, "This obviously makes things much better for us."