OLD SAYBROOK – A 24-foot Privateer rescue fire boat which, for the past twenty years, helped save many lives, fell victim to a powerful storm on Mar. 4.
The Old Saybrook Fire Department, OSFD, boat was most recently used for fire protection for a private fireworks display at the Saybrook Point Inn on Feb. 29 and was later docked at the Oak Leaf Marina.
During the Mar. 4 storm, it is believed that a large wave overtook the back of the boat and the vessel took on more water than the boat’s bilge pump could handle.
The strong waves then caused the boat to turn around and forced it underneath the dock it was tied to.
Along the Connecticut River, the storm provided winds strong enough that it blew a door off its hinges at the marina’s gas dock.
Fire chiefs and a representative of Sea Tow Central Connecticut were at the marina during the morning of March 5 to remove the boat from the water.
OSFD Deputy Fire Chief J.T. Dunn said that electronics on the boat, including thermal imaging, radios, and radio directional finders, were destroyed because the boat was under water for several hours.
Damage to the boat, including its electronics, is estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
According to an OSFD press release, “its loss, even temporarily, is a sorrowful event for the firefighters who take a great deal of pride and devotion in their equipment.”
The release also stated that for Old Saybrook, the fire boat was an “indispensible piece of firefighting and rescue equipment in the area.”
Dunn said that, in recent years, Old Saybrook has had more fatalities on it’s waterways than on its highways.
While highways going through Old Saybrook include Interstate 95, Route 9, and U.S. Route 1, the rescue boat patrolled approximately 60 square miles including portions of Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River.
Dunn said that the town’s insurance carrier, CIRMA, is working with the department on the claim.
For the last several months, Old Saybrook First Selectman Michael Pace has met and worked with fire chiefs in an attempt to obtain federal funding to replace the aging boat.
“Members of the fire department have been vehemently working to keep the boat in-service while working toward the boat’s replacement,” the OSFD release stated.
Those efforts lead to the departmental submission of a 2009 Federal Appropriation request for the boat’s replacement with Congressman Joe Courtney’s, office as well as the offices of Senator Joseph Lieberman and Senator Christopher Dodd.
In the mean time, Dunn said that the Oak Leaf Marina has allowed the fire department to use one of its marina-owned vessels in times of emergency.
Additionally, the Old Saybrook Police Department has given permission for the fire department to use their 23-foot SeaArk Patrol vessel on a part-time basis.
Old Saybrook has 17 miles of coastline, the longest coastline of any Connecticut town and reportedly has the largest number of boat slips of any community in the state.