For the last six months, the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue has been upgrading its firefighting equipment and apparatus, adding a new emergency rescue vehicle to its corps.
However, the NHRFR recently added a totally new piece of firefighting and rescue equipment - but this one floats.
The NHRFR recently christened a 20-foot, seven passenger motor boat, complete with a water pumper, that will enable the regional to help with any situations that may arise along the waterfront or even in the Hudson River.
The boat was donated to the regional by Tom Richards, a long-time veteran of the West New York Police Department who was also the public safety director of Guttenberg for over a year before leaving the position earlier this year.
According to battalion chief Ron Tompkins, who is in charge of the fireboat, the boat was equipped with firefighting equipment by the regional's shop stewards, using pieces of equipment that were just lying idle in the shop, and was put into the water for the first time earlier this month. The boat has been docked in Weehawken's Port Imperial Marina, with the dock slot donated by owner Arthur Imperatore.
"We've responded to about six calls already," said Tompkins, who has been assigned to the NHRFR's new rescue unit. "There was a pier fire in Hoboken that we assisted on and we also responded to calls which said there were people in the water, but it turned out to be floating objects."
Tompkins said that the new fireboat does a regular water patrol on weekends, in two hour intervals, just because the boat traffic is higher during the weekend with party boats and such.
"During the weekend, our main concern is people in the water, because there are a lot of boats out on the water," Tompkins said. "The traffic on the river is incredible, from passenger ships to one-man kayaks."
The fireboat is equipped with a marine radio that enables the NHRFR patrol to keep in contact with the Hoboken and Jersey City police, as well as the Coast Guard and New York fire department and New York harbor police.
After the boat was donated and it was decided to turn it into a firefighting apparatus, Tompkins said that approximately 18 members of the NHRFR were sent to the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary in Secaucus for training.
"Again, the training was done at no cost to the taxpayers," Tompkins said. "They didn't charge us anything. Most of our men knew how to tie knots and work with the ropes, so they just needed the rescue training."
Tompkins said that it was natural for him to take command of the fireboat. He spent four years in the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War and has spent many days on the seas.
"I also have a bunch of friends who own boats and I constantly end up working on the boats with my friends," Tompkins said. "So it was a little natural for me."
Eugene D'Alesssandro is one of the firefighters who have been assigned to duty on the boat.
"It's all new to me and it's exciting, because I learn something new every day," D'Alessandro said. "Growing up in Union City, I had a chance here and there to go on a boat and I always liked it. But when I became a firefighter, I never thought there was a chance that I could end up on a boat. It's an opportunity for me to take on a new challenge and I really like it."
Apparently, so many other members of the NHRFR are interested in working on the fireboat that another 18 have registered for training classes with the Coast Guard Auxiliary beginning next month.
"I've received a ton of requests, but I'm looking for those who have boating experience first," Tompkins said. "It really is a great tool to have and was definitely needed. It's a new tool in our arsenal and will be able to help with incidents at the waterfront right away."
Tompkins said that the boat is equipped with 200 feet of hose, so if a fire breaks out on a boat in the marina, they can act quickly, pumping the river water through to fight the fires. The pumper also takes river water and fires high volume through the front of the boat.
"With the constant development along the waterfront and the activity, this was something that was sorely needed," Tompkins said. "There is a need for even more fireboats and we'll try to get the new Department of Homeland Security to purchase more."
However, the first boat was a welcome head start.
"It really has been an exciting addition," Tompkins said. "I think it will keep a lot of us from getting bored."