Gaston Fire ditches jet skis, looking for boat

Winter offers opportunity for firefighters to upgrade water patrol gear

If you're in the market for a pair of jet skis, the Gaston Rural Fire District has you covered. And if you've got a small boat you're looking to offload, the firefighters in Gaston want to hear from you.

That's because the Gaston fire department has developed a sense of boat envy.

Every summer, thousands flock to Henry Hagg Lake. While they're there, the visitors fish, boat and picnic. But all the while, volunteers from Gaston fire are lakeside, keeping tabs on the festivities.

Since the lake sits within the boundaries of the fire district, Gaston firefighters are the first in line to handle any emergency medical or safety issues that can arise at the lake.

That can range from drowning to heart attacks, to more common ailments like heatstroke or a tipped over fishing boat.

'It's a pretty busy place there during the summer,' said Ken Bilderback, the volunteer PIO for Gaston fire. 'You figure on a busy afternoon the people at Hagg Lake double the size of our district.'

Since 2005, volunteers have cruised the lake in a pair of Sea Doos, which were donated to the district by the Baker Rock Foundation, of Beaverton.

But this year, the 130 horsepower motor in one of the jet skis started acting up. It needed to be overhauled, but instead, the district leadership had an idea: Instead of rehabbing the jet skis, maybe it's time for the district to get a boat.

'It was kind of a painful decision to surplus the jet skis but we came to the decision that we were throwing good money after bad,' Bilderback said.

Other agency boats

The Washington County Sheriff's office, which has a boat and a marine patrol, also cruises the lake looking for trouble.

The deputies on board perform boat safety examinations and ensure boaters have the correct equipment on board. In case of a violation, they can issue citations.

And Forest Grove Fire and Rescue also maintains a boat, which has been brought to Hagg Lake to be deployed, but hasn't hit the water recently.

'Our boat's designed specifically for floodwaters because that is typically our rescue need,' said David Nemeyer, Forest Grove Fire Marshall.

And Forest Grove has used its boat before. Nemeyer said the boat's gone out to Hagg Lake recently for training and let firefighters rescue people trapped in the major flood of 2007.

Now Gaston is eyeing a boat of its own, Bilderback said.

While the jet skis help firefighters get efficiently around the lake, a boat, which can haul equipment and is easier to operate than a jet ski, would be a better fit.

'We've learned over the years that a boat would serve the purposes much easier,' Bilderback said.

But a suitable boat (more like the Sheriff's Office boat than the one from Forest Grove) will cost anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000, money the fire district, which operates with a part-time chief and two paid firefighters, doesn't have.

'We're in the process of applying for grants and applying for other sources of money,' Bilderback said.

In the interim, the district hopes to sell its pair of Sea Doos - with their fire department markings removed - for $3,150, which might serve at least as a down payment for the big boat down the road.

Unless someone has a boat in their back yard that might make a decent fire boat.

'People don't typically just sell a fire and rescue boat, we're probably going to buy a stock boat and outfit it with EMT gear,' Bilderback said. 'If somebody says 'I've got a boat that I don't use anymore,' I'm not saying it might not work.'