Firefighters explore water rescue capacity

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Purdy Fire District mulls purchasing inflatable boats

Exploratory talks have started between firefighters in Purdy and other departments, including Monett, about expanding water rescue capacities.

The Purdy Fire District played an instrumental role in water rescues in Monett on Dec. 26 using a recently-acquired light medium tactical vehicle, a former National Guard truck, which replaced the department's two-and-a-half ton truck. With torso-high wheels, the truck helped rescue two dogs at the Monett dog pound and residents at 501 E. Broadway who decided to abandon their second story apartment at the peak of the flooding.

According to Mike Bennett, who serves on the Purdy Fire District board of directors, the truck also took part in attempting to rescue people and, as it turned out, firefighters who became trapped by high water in the McDowell area. On Dec. 26, Bennett, accompanied by a team from the Missouri Water Patrol, attempted to drive to the people who had become surrounded by water. After proceeding until water covered the truck's headlights, Bennett abandoned the effort and retreated. On Dec. 27, Purdy Fire Chief Nick Mercer again attempted to drive in again, getting farther than Bennett. Having accompanied an ambulance to the vicinity previously, firefighters had a general familiarity with the roadway. However, Mercer attempted to turn about 10 feet short of his destination. The truck's front end dropped off the side of the roadway and became stuck. At that point the Water Patrol had to rescue both the family and the marooned firefighters.

The experience in both Monett and Purdy reinforced the need for developing a local water rescue capacity. Bennett said the Purdy district has discussed possibly a joint effort with other departments toward purchasing a boat that could ride in the back of the National Guard truck. Purdy leaders have already discussed painting the camouflage-colored truck red to match the other district vehicles.

Monett Fire Chief Tom Jones confirmed he had been approached about participating in such a venture. At this preliminary stage, Jones said he is considering acquiring a boat just for Monett, but has not ruled out a joint undertaking with other departments.

Mercer said the Purdy district board has decided to outfit the truck to fight brush fires, fitting it with a tank that can be removed by a hoist in the station bay. The option of using the truck for water rescues would remain.

Fire services generally use inflatable boats, Mercer said, as opposed to the flat-bottom boats used by the Water Patrol, which cannot be launched as easily. An inflatable boat designed for water rescues costs from $11,000 to $13,000. Other inflatable boats are available for $2,000 to $3,000, but are not as durable for dealing with the kind of debris encountered during rescues, Mercer added.

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