Charlestown Fire Company's New Fire Boat 15 Years in the Making

The Charlestown Fire Company in Cecil County, Md., is getting its brand-new fire rescue boat next week, 15.5 years after the volunteer firefighters started trying to secure the funds.

Charlestown, on the North East River, relies heavily on being able to fight fires and respond to emergencies by boat. A lot of the nearby rural communities don't have access to fire hydrants, and a fire boat's pump is the best source of water to put out house fires.

Charlestown Fire Company also responds to frequent boat fires. In 2016, they fought three boat fires in a span of nine days, and two of those fires were bad enough to destroy the boat involved.

The fire company was one of the first responders to a disastrous collision between a freighter and a tugboat on the Elk River, which killed four people back in 2002.

The chairperson of the fire company's boat committee, Mike Walsh, tells Bay Bulletin their current fire boat, a 25-foot 1990 Sea Hawk fishing boat converted to serve their purpose, needs replacing.

Walsh, along with the company's former chief of 28 years, Ronnie Daniels, and current president, George Stanko, have been working to secure funding since November 2001. Yes, you read that correctly: they've been trying to get this new boat since 2001.

The fire company appealed to the federal and state governments for funds, and finally in 2015, received a U.S. Homeland Security Port Security Grant of about $476,000. The state of Maryland followed, with a Waterway Management  Grant of $50,000.

The fire company chose a Metalcraft Marine 32 Firestorm. Metalcraft is based in Kingston, Ontario, and supplies fire boats to the majority of local jurisdictions: The City of Annapolis, Hampton Roads, St. Michaels, and Washington, D.C., to name a few.

Charlestown's long-awaited fire rescue boat will offer some major improvements from their current boat. Its all-aluminum construction allows it to stay in the water year-round. It can operate in high winds, right up to hurricane levels. It has twin outboard motors, a generator, and both heat and air conditioning in the cabin.

But its most impressive feature is the fire pump. The larger-capacity pump is stronger than those on some fire engines. It will pump up to 2,200 gallons of water per minute.

Known as Boat 5 among Cecil County's fire companies, the new fire vessel is due to leave Ontario by truck on Monday. The trip is tricky, because the narrow bridges it has to pass over will need to be temporarily shut down. The fire company hopes to have the boat put into service in a couple of weeks.

The company will sell its 1990 Sea Hawk, but keep its other existing fire company boat, a 1963 13-foot Boston Whaler, which they use to respond to emergencies on ponds or creeks. Replacing that one will be the fire company's next big goal.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

Megan Viviano