Editor,

Here are our bottom-line conclusions from experience with the Fireboat in Cornelius and a recent fire at a large home on Norman Shores Drive.

1. Our first responders performed superbly. They were on the scene in 7 minutes and suppressed this garage fire on Norman Shores completely and safely utilizing Cornelius’s three-man crew, on-duty, support from Davidson and Huntersville on-duty units, and additional personnel. The main house was saved from significant damage and nobody was hurt. There were no delays; the fireboat was driven to the scene as a contingency after the fire was suppressed first.

2. Shoreline fires will always require all on-duty firefighters to rush to the scene via land immediately. Due to the extended time required to move it, the fireboat can never be expected to be on the scene until fire suppression is nearly or totally complete.

3. The primary mission of the fireboat is to respond to incidents out on the lake inaccessible by land assets. In the last year, the vast majority of fireboat use has been in this category. Accordingly, our Fireboat is a regional public safety asset benefitting the entire Lake Norman region, not principally Cornelius citizens.

Many of you are aware that Cornelius contracts with Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue, an independent organization comprised of paid part-time members and volunteers serving Cornelius parts of Mecklenburg County, with mutual aid contracts with Davidson and Huntersville fire departments. We are extremely fortunate as this organization is world class for a town of our size. They have been awarded a Class 4 ISO rating, second only to Charlotte for all of Mecklenburg County, and their response times and service levels are uniformly outstanding.

A few years ago, Cornelius Lemley Fire and Rescue came to Cornelius and requested that we help them acquire a highly specialized fireboat at a cost of approximately $400K. Given Cornelius’s 70 miles of shoreline and increasing citizen activity on Lake Norman, we supported the request. Unfortunately,  the agency clarified for our board last Monday night, through the recent Norman Shores example, that in almost all cases the fireboat cannot realistically be set up at a serious shoreline fire until well after the fire is already suppressed. There are many challenges - the geometry of our shoreline, the travel time on the water, setting-up, and most importantly - the imperative to have all hands (whether three-man or four-man crews) immediately working fire suppression at the scene within minutes after the 911 call. The fireboat is parked at the Peninsula Yacht Club, but freeing up a qualified fire fighter to get out to the fireboat, go through the launch process, navigate around Cornelius’s jagged shoreline, get as close to a scene as shallow depths will allow and set-up equipment for support will always take a lot of time. Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue may decide to increase their staffing to enable four-man crews with 24-7 coverage, but this will not impact fireboat utilization since the four-man crew is still needed at the fire immediately in all cases.

Clearly, this asset has a critical mission on the lake itself with fire, accidents, and rescue support. Given the very low probability of a house fire on the Cornelius shoreline where the fireboat actually has material impact on fire suppression, the fireboat’s primary impact will be on the lake generally – serving the broad, regional population. Accordingly, it is imperative that we get others (Mecklenburg County, Lincoln County, Iredell County, Huntersville, Davidson, Mooresville, etc.) to help cover the costs of the fireboat.

– David Gilroy, Cornelius

Commissioner