July 02, 2015
To speed rescue efforts for people in trouble on the Chattahoochee River, the Johns Creek Fire Department now has a new custom-made rescue/recovery boat that is more maneuverable, more versatile and more powerful than its previous craft.
“We took all the good ideas from other agencies, and came up with some of our own and went to the manufacturer and asked can you build this,” said Johns Creek Fire Chief Jeff Hogan. “We think this new boat will help us find people faster and get to them faster. We have 13 miles of riverfront on the Chattahoochee and we respond to dozens of emergencies every year, so this new boat will be a tremendous asset.”
Hogan said the modified boat has a unique design, will go places that the other boat couldn’t, and allows the Swift Water Rescue Unit to operate more safely.
The new swift water rescue boat has a 4-inch draft, which allows it to cruise over shoals that ground other boats. It also has a special olyethylene coating covering the complete bottom and halfway up the sides of the boat to protect it from rocks and debris.
The craft has a 200 hp jet drive motor, five times more than the old boat. The extra power allows the boat to muscle upstream through the current, even after a big release. The stronger motor also allows rescuers to put in the boat at closest boat ramp. The boat also has a tighter turning radius, making it much more nimble and able to get to places too dangerous for other boats.
The new rescue boat is bigger, accommodating 1,200 pounds of cargo, including people and equipment. The old boat could only take 800 pounds of people and gear.
“Sometimes if we had multiple people to rescue, it was a problem because we couldn’t always get them all in the boat,” Hogan said. “With this new boat, we think that will be less of an issue.”
JCFD officials made some other design changes as well. The helm is toward the forward part of the craft, which gives the pilot better vision and provides better balance. The gunnels (sides) of the boat are lower, which makes it easier to enter from the water. The boat has high-powered, fog-penetrating lights.
“There were times when the fog was bad that we would have trouble seeing obstacles and the people in distress,” he said.
The boat also has advanced Sonar with side-scan imaging capability that allows the pilot to see underwater obstacles. It also can help locate underwater drowning victims.
JCFD also included a hand-cranked hoist that can lift a lightweight stretcher.
“If we have a person with a spinal injury, getting them in the boat could be a challenge,” Hogan said. “With the hoist, we can lift them safely.”
Johns Creek Fire Department, which regularly assists neighboring jurisdictions, has focused on its Swift Water Rescue Unit. Forty-seven of 86 firefighters have gone through the special training to become certified Swift Water Rescue technicians. Other departments routinely send firefighters to JCFD to learn Swift Water Rescue techniques.
The department created a map of the Chattahoochee River that charts the river by grids and notes many landmarks and unique features to allow rescuers to quickly locate folks in trouble. JCFD shared the map with neighboring agencies to better coordinate river rescue efforts.
“The river is very popular with the public, but it can be dangerous,” Hogan said. “We want to do everything we can to prepare for those times when people get in trouble.”
Watch the WSB-TV
report about the boat.