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22-foot custom-built vessel can reach new areas in Clackamas County for water rescues

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Lake Oswego Fire Department's new 22-foot rescue boat includes an enclosed cabin, better exterior lighting and a more powerful jet drive system. When not deployed, it sits on a trailer in the South Shore Fire Station.Lake Oswego firefighters are getting ready to take the wraps off the department's new rescue boat, which was delivered to its home at the South Shore fire station earlier this month and will be put into service in the coming weeks.

"We're just finishing up getting the gear put on it and finalized," says LOFD Battalion Chief Greg Barnum. "We received it a couple weeks ago, but we had to do finalization of some of the radios and lighting."

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - LOFD Driver-Engineer Brad Hensley demonstrates the new boat's controls. Instead of a wheel, the boat is controlled by a stick for left and right turns.The LOFD's previous rescue boat, which has been on the department's replacement schedule for years, has been described as little more than a modified fishing boat.

"We retrofitted it to make it work for the fire department to be our rescue boat," Barnum says. "And it worked there for a while. But as we go on, we learn what the needs and wants are, and we realized we needed more of a rescue boat to have a better response for the citizens."

The new boat is 22 feet long; it was designed from the ground up as a rescue boat and built from scratch. It boasts a number of improvements over its predecessor, including pull-down plastic sheets to fully enclose the forward cabin area, multiple lights for nighttime navigation and a large rear platform to provide easy access for the dive team.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - The new boat features a large rear platform to provide easy access for the dive team, and a pulley system for hauling people out of the water. 'Once your'e hypothermic, it gets pretty hard to help yourself in,' explains LOFD Lt. Toby Hays.The interior seats, dive platform and exterior hull are all customized with the LOFD name and logos, and the boat is coated with a new gray-on-red color scheme that the department plans to employ on its future fire engines.

"This is the cutting edge of the new rescue boats in our area," Barnum says. "Other agencies are most likely going to be looking at ours and trying to do the same thing."

The boat uses a jet drive for propulsion rather than an outboard motor, which offers more versatility — the jet drive can take the boat into much shallower areas, according to Lt. Toby Hays. The previous boat's drive tended to struggle a bit in choppy waters, Barnum says, so the new propulsion system is also designed for a smoother ride.

The tradeoff for the jet drive is a slight loss of horsepower efficiency, Hays says, but the boat's heavy-duty Raptor 440 engine and 110-gallon fuel tank should be able to make up the difference, and the versatility will allow it to travel on a greater portion of Clackamas County's waterways.

"It gives us the ability to run the Clackamas River, all the way up to Barton Park (in Boring)," he says. "It provides us with a better ability to protect the community."

Those abilities are important, because the boat isn't going to be limited to Oswego Lake and the Willamette River. The LOFD is part of the Clackamas County Water Consortium, a group of water rescue agencies that work together and respond collectively to emergencies.

A proper water rescue takes three boats, Hays says — an upstream lookout, a downstream "safety" boat and then a third vessel to perform the actual rescue. So the LOFD boat could be mobilized for an emergency anywhere in the county, even if another boat is closer.

When it's not deployed on a call, the boat will rest on a trailer inside the South Shore Fire Station, waiting to be towed by one of the department's SUVs to a launch site.

The boat was built by Precision Weld Custom Boats, which is based in Vancouver, Wash. Hays says the department had considerable input during the six-month design and building process, and credits Precision Weld owner Tom Maxfield for collaborating closely with the department.

"He really did a great job with us and helped us out by allowing us to come talk with him all the time," Hays says.

Hays and fellow LOFD dive team member Scott Carlson took the lead on the project, with input from Barnum and Battalion Chief Troy Bany. Members of the group made frequent trips to Vancouver to provide input, Hays says.

The final cost of the project was approximately $126,000, Hays says, and came in under budget. The final step is to get it certified and registered with the State of Oregon, and then the department plans to immediately launch into an accelerated training program.

The boat will be a frequent sight on Oswego Lake and in the Willamette River in the next couple weeks; Hays says the department wants to give everyone on the boat team a chance to practice driving and then launch into more specialized training benchmarks, with the overall goal of having the boat officially in service by July 1.

The new boat will come in handy for emergency readiness on July 4, Barnum says, because the City of Lake Oswego is putting on its first-ever fireworks show at George Rogers Park, launching from a barge on the Willamette River.

The section of the river near the barge will be closed during the show, but Barnum says the department is expecting a much higher amount of river traffic than in previous years, as more vessels will try to get a view from the water.

"You're going to have a lot more people out in their boats watching on the water, on the shorelines, watching from their docks," he says.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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