News, Public Saftey

Hancock to get one of four new emergency boats in county

by Geoff Fox

Hancock will be receiving one of four new emergency boats and custom trailers after county commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a bid during their June 7 meeting.

Hancock Fire Company will be getting a new rescue boat to assist on water rescues. This boat, Boat 11 from Potomac Valley Fire Company in Sharpsburg, is similar to what Hancock’s boat will look like except it will be “cleaner and shiner” said Director of Division of Emergency Services David Hays.     photo courtesy of David Hays

The new rescue boats will replace three current rescue boats, all of which have more than 15 years in service. The fourth rescue boat would add swift water rescue capabilities to Hancock, which hasn’t been adequately served by a boat.

Last year, Washington County had 48 swift water rescues and as of last Thursday morning, there had already been 37 water rescues this year.

According to the agenda for the June 7 county commissioners’ meeting, 13 persons or companies registered and downloaded the bid document from the county’s website. However, only one bid was received on May 18.

The bid came from Damaree Inflatable Boats, Inc. of Friendsville.

According to a page enclosed with the agenda, the total lump sum was $158,476. The four boats would cost $112,300 and the trailers would run $46,176.

It will be 12 to 13 months until the new boats are placed into service.

Washington County Commissioners were originally presented the idea for the rescue boats in the fall of last year when the county was a recipient of about $29 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Commissioner Wayne Keefer said the money had to be earmarked by 2024 or 2025 and spent by 2026.

Since the money is tax-payer money, Keefer said he requested a survey of how the citizens would want the money spent.

“At the top of that list was emergency services in general,” Keefer said.

There had been an item on the commissioners’ agenda regarding apparatus fleet replacement where the county would purchase fire trucks, ambulances, and other equipment that would be loaned out when apparatus would go out of service for repairs or maintenance. However, that was removed from agendas.

Keefer said he was touring fire companies within Washington County and happened to be at the Potomac Valley Fire Company when he found out they’ d be called to provide swift water rescues in Hancock, if needed.

“Emergencies, they need responded to quickly and just that travel time was just mind-boggling to me,” he said about the response time from just south of Sharpsburg to Hancock.

In a swift water rescue situation, Keefer said a person could be swept down river quickly, which is why the response time needed to be quicker.

Keefer wasn’t specifically looking to bring a boat to Hancock, but asked officials about using the ARPA funds and allocate a restart of the apparatus fleet replacement program that would include boats, fire engines, and ambulances.

When looking at the boats, they need repairs and replaced as well.

While putting that into the budget, officials decided to look at other communities that could use swift water rescue boats.

Keefer said it might be well over a year before the boat gets to Hancock, but it has been approved and purchased.

“It’s coming,” he said.

With Hancock being a river community, people use the Potomac River is a source for boating, swimming and fishing.

“Hancock is a remote area of the county,” Keefer said. “We’re not nearby major cities so we need those services in our community and not rely on that long transportation to get rescue here when we need it.”

Keefer added the boat is not exclusive to Hancock and he sees the Hancock area that encompasses three states.

Hancock has mutual aide agreements with the neighboring communities and from time to time they rely on those fire and rescue companies to help out.

“We’re going to be there too if our neighbors need it also,” Keefer said.

With Hancock getting a new boat added to the fire department, Potomac Valley Fire Company, Sharpsburg Fire Company, and Funkstown Fire Company will have their current boats replaced.

Director of Emergency Services David Hays said Clear Spring Fire Company and Williamsport Fire Company are already in the process of buying rescue boats for their respective departments.

The four boats the county is buying through America Recovery Act funds and budgeted in the Division of Emergency Services’ Capital Improvement Plan and will be Division of Emergency Services boats that would be stationed at each of the four fire stations.

Hays said the boats would be 14-foot inflatable swift water rescue boats.

“They’re designed to operate in very difficult water with a lot of rapids and can operate in class one, two, and three rapids with relative ease but certainly have to have a skilled operator,” Hays said of the boats.

Hays said supply chain issues mean the earliest the boat would arrive in Hancock would be in 12 to 18 months.

Each boat will have their own custom trailer because they aren’ t a typical fishing boat or pontoon, Hays said. Instead, the boats are custom made rescue boats and need that custom-made trailer.

It also allows first responders to unload and launch the boat in any type of condition.

This won’t be the first rescue boat Hancock has had. That boat was bought and put in service by the Hancock Fire Company compared to the boat the county’s Division of Emergency Services is providing.

In an email to The Hancock News, Hancock Fire Chief Robert Hoopengarder said Hancock Fire Company had one, but “it has been quite a while” since they stopped using it.

Hoopengardner said Hancock stopped using their boat due to not having enough boat operators at the station.

Right now, the closest boat is stationed in Funkstown, but Clear Spring recently purchased one and once it goes in service, it will be the closest boat to Hancock.

When asked what it would mean to the fire company, Hancock community, and the surrounding area, Hoopengardner said it gives them another resource to help the community when needed.

“With Hancock getting a boat in the future, we will also be able to respond to other jurisdictions when needed,” Hoopengardner said.

Having a boat in Hancock would be the closest one for Morgan County, Fulton

County, and Little Orleans besides the entire Hancock area.

Hancock doesn’t get a lot of water calls, Hoopengardner said, but there would be an average of one a year.

“We could exceed our average depending on the weather,” he said.

When it comes to training for the boat, Hoopengarder said it would be open to any member of that would wish to be trained.

Those who do get trained would take a swift water class they must pass and then a boat operations course.

Hays said added the county has a working program so there are already personnel in the county trained in swift water rescue and operating level.

Because the county is adding the boat in Hancock, the training would be a three-day class and Hays said they’re looking to host one of those classes. There would be another set of training before next summer.

There would be a significant portion of the staff would be able to operate the boats. They would also have to be trained in rescue swimmers as well since there could be someone in the water.

“There’ s another side of this other than operating the boat,” Hays said.

The boats provided by the Division of Emergency Services, Hays said, are placed at stations with dedicated staff, or paid firefighters, and are able to respond, baring any other calls.

Hays did say if any of the members of Hancock Rescue Squad wanted to be trained to assist the fire company, the county would be supportive of the training and work to cover the financial cost of it as well.