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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley Fire’s new boat adds to rescue ‘toolbox’

Members of the Spec Ops Swift Water rescue team work to ready their new (used) boat with a refreshed outboard motor, a newly powder-coated trailer, and a cleanup and re-badging of the boat.  (Courtesy of SVFD)
Members of the Spec Ops Swift Water rescue team work to ready their new (used) boat with a refreshed outboard motor, a newly powder-coated trailer, and a cleanup and re-badging of the boat. (Courtesy of SVFD)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Valley Fire Department has put a new, larger swift water rescue boat into service that will allow crews to work more easily and safely to rescue people from the Spokane River when spring water flows are high and fast.

“The current boat works well at lower water flows, but it doesn’t have the horsepower to go upstream in heavy water flow,” said department safety officer Capt. Craig Warzon.

The new boat can fit four to five crew members in addition to a patient, while the older boat could only fit two to three crew members and a patient. The larger size also makes it more stable in the water. Crews always make their way upstream to conduct a rescue and use the boat’s power to hold their position in the river while conducting a rescue, Warzon said. That was difficult in the older, lower powered boat.

“If you are going to rescue someone off a boat, you want to be pointed upstream,” he said.

But the older, smaller rescue boat won’t be put into retirement. Instead, both boats will be sent to water rescue calls. Often crews are going off a report of where the person was last seen and have to conduct a search to find that person. “It doubles our search capacity for search speed,” Warzon said. “With two boats, we can search twice as fast. We can launch from two different points.”

The new power boat also has a shallower draft than the old boat, which allows it to go into shallower and more rocky areas when the water levels are lower later in the year. “It’s just another tool in our toolbox and it’s a great tool,” Warzon said.

Having two boats is also important just in case one of them has mechanical issues, Warzon said. “With just having one power boat, we didn’t have a backup,” he said.

The bigger power boat is used and was purchased from a regional fire department that was selling it as surplus, Warzon said. “We got it at a substantially reduced rate,” he said.

Administrative Captain Scott Crawford said the department was trying to avoid buying a new boat, which would be expensive. “We didn’t buy a brand-new boat,” he said. “We got a boat that needed work. We stretched our dollars.”

The department’s Special Operations team, which includes swift water rescue, has 27 members so that several are always on call at once. Each of those team members trained on the new boat before it went into service. “Everyone had to be certified on both boats,” Crawford said.

Members of the Special Operations team also did the repair and refurbishment work on the boat and its trailer, Crawford said. The boat was modified to have an internal propeller, which helps prevent damage to it.

Water rescue calls are common in the Spokane Valley area and the department also has an automatic aid agreement with the Spokane Fire Department, which means Spokane Valley crews are sent to water rescue calls in Spokane as well. In addition to the two power boats, the department has two kayaks each at three different stations near the Spokane River as well as an inflatable cataraft.

Warzon said he encourages people recreating on the Spokane River to know the river conditions and have the proper equipment, including a life jacket. It’s the people who are unprepared, and, at this time of year, not expecting the cold temperature of the water and the sheer speed and power of the water who need rescuing, he said.

“We have fatalities on the river this time of year every year,” he said. “Unless you have the proper training and equipment, now is not the time to be recreating on the Spokane River.”

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