Fireboat scrutinized after recent blaze
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – The fire that severely damaged a house on Norman Shores Drive Oct. 28 has reignited the Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue’s desire to upgrade their staff to four paid firefighters on nights and weekends. In a presentation to the Cornelius Board last week, Captain Greg Shaner and Asst. Fire Chief Kevin Fox outlined reasons the town should give funding to pay for additional firefighters, based on the late arrival of the fireboat to the blaze.
The boat, which was obtained by the town and the fire department in August 2010 for more than $400,000, showed up to the blaze on the Peninsula after the fire had largely been suppressed, Shaner said.
The late arrival of the boat and its apparent understaffing has raised questions among the board as to why the boat was originally purchased.
“I wish I had the benefit of knowing what was said about the staffing when this boat was bought,” said Commissioner Lynette Rinker who was not serving on the board when it approved the purchase of the vessel.
“It disturbs me greatly that we have been put in a position where we have an asset that can’t be fully utilized. It would seem to me that this should have been brought up when the fire department was seeking approval for this,” Rinker said.
In a letter to the editor in this week’s Herald Weekly, Commissioner David Gilroy also shared the sentiment, writing that the fireboat had taken on a different role from the one imagined by the board in 2009 when they unanimously voted to aid in purchasing the vessel.
“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,” Gilroy wrote.
Gilroy went on to write that even with the addition of a fourth paid firefighter on nights and weekends, the fireboat would still be rendered somewhat useless in the suppression of a shore fire on the peninsula.
“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,” Gilroy said.
Currently, the fire department operates with four paid firefighters on weekdays, and three on nights and weekends when it depends on the response of on-call firefighters.
However, Shaner disagrees with Gilroy, bringing to light the much-needed capability of the fireboat to pump water to fire trucks suppressing fires on the peninsula. In his presentation to the board, Shaner marked areas on the Peninsula and around Kings Port Marina where a combination of elevation and low water pressure make fire fighting extremely difficult without the help of the fireboat.
Shaner and the fire department do, however, recognize that the lack of personnel on nights and weekends does seriously impact the fireboats ability to operate effectively.
“We are so short right now we can’t even staff the land-based units,” Shaner said. But with five paid firefighters they could use the boat correctly, he said.
The controversy surrounding the addition of staffing to the fire department is an issue that will have to wait until the Cornelius board sits down to talk about next year’s budget, however Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte isn’t convinced the vessel’s poor response time is an issue of staffing.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Tarte said, who believes there should be a system in place where designated boat drivers are scheduled to be on-call during nights and weekends.
“I think we need to take a look at how we can most efficiently staff the stations, and how to get the most from the personnel staffed during those off-hours,” he said.