Report: DC's Emergency River Rescue Boat Obsolete - News - @

Report: DC's Emergency River Rescue Boat Obsolete

The Fire & EMS Department doesn't have plans to replace it


Liz Farmer, The Examiner | | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Districts only rescue boat capable of handling large-scale emergencies is obsolete and its upkeep has been neglected, putting the nations capital more at risk than other major cities if terrorists attack on the water, a report obtained by The Washington Examiner has concluded.

And city officials are not taking steps to fill that gap in area security, according to a preliminary report from the Office of the Inspector General. The citys Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department apparently has neither a plan for how it will replace the [50-year-old boat] nor a timetable for doing so, the report said.

The John H. Glenn Jr. is a 71-foot fireboat launched in 1962. It is docked at the Southwest Waterfront with two smaller fireboats that are less than half as long. The Glenn makes roughly 150 runs a year on the water, according to estimates from knowledgeable sources. In the winter, it is the Districts only means of breaking ice on the Potomac to ensure clear passage for military vehicles.

It was dispatched as a rescue ship to the 14th Street Bridge in 1982 when a jetliner crashed into the structure, killing 78 people. More recently it served as a floating command post in 2007 when a freight train derailed over the Anacostia River.

When asked about the report, at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson said the findings showed the District did not have the same capabilities as other major cities. The report notes Boston and San Francisco both applied for federal grant money to update their fleets with boats that are faster and pump twice as much water.

Theres no reason why, as the nations capital, that we dont have the best in any apparatus for fire and rescue, said Mendelson, whose committee oversees the citys Fire and EMS Department.

The department has until Monday to issue its response to the inspector general, and a spokesman last week did not return requests for comment.

The Glenn is used for everything from standing by at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport any time a plane has trouble landing to serving as a rescue ship for the Potomac and Anacostia rivers busy waterways. The District also has seven major bridges the Glenn must respond to, and last year the bridges were cited as a target on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The last time the Glenns hull was thoroughly inspected using ultrasonic testing was in October 2003, the report said, despite the fact that the hull and ship have been damaged since then in two separate accidents.

The report recommends that FEMS implement a plan to apply for funding to buy a state-of-the-art fireboat.

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