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Pittsburgh's new fire boat is powerful enough to spray a bridge fire

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, 10:24 a.m.
Pittsburgh Fire's Battalion Chief Ed Farley tests out the water cannon that pumps river water up while out testing the new boat on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire's Battalion Chief Ed Farley tests out the water cannon that pumps river water up while out testing the new boat on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Pittsburgh Fire's new fireboat docked at the South Side Marina on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire's new fireboat docked at the South Side Marina on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Pittsburgh Fire's Patrick Stack navigates the new fireboat out of the South Side Marina on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire's Patrick Stack navigates the new fireboat out of the South Side Marina on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Pittsburgh Fire's Captain Stephen Jones logs the members of the crew after testing the new fireboat on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Fire's Captain Stephen Jones logs the members of the crew after testing the new fireboat on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

Ed Farley sprayed water across a wide expanse of the Monongahela River on Wednesday from the rear deck of Pittsburgh's new fireboat, the Sophie Masloff.

“It was asked: Can we hit the Liberty Bridge with this?” the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau battalion chief said, cranking up a pump that can spew 3,000 gallons per minute in a stream 80 yards long. “Absolutely.”

A fire on the Liberty Bridge in September cinched the city's decision to purchase the $540,000 fireboat from Wisconsin-based Lake Assault Boats. The fire sparked by a contractor's welding torch damaged the steel structure and nearly caused a collapse while firefighters were on the span.

Public safety director Wendell Hissrich said the boat will go into service by September after 100 firefighters are trained to use it.

“For a large-scale fire or a fire that is possibly offshore, we have an unlimited water source that we are unable to use,” he said. “With the capabilities of this boat ... we would be able to extinguish a fire on shore as well as a large-scale fire that's offshore or on any of the three rivers that we have.”

The high-tech boat is equipped with digital sonar, radar and an infrared camera that gives users night vision. It also has heat-sensing technology and wireless internet.

“It can pick up any kind of hot spot or change in temperature,” said firefighter Patrick Stack, who has served for 20 years in a U.S. Army Reserves floating craft company based in Baltimore. “You'll be able to see a body signature or anything generating heat. It's also very useful in firefighting if you're going along the shore looking for a brush fire or something like that.”

The 34-foot boat is powered by twin 300-hp V-6 outboard motors with a top speed of 40 mph. The motors also act to stabilize the craft while pumping water from front and rear stations with enough force to push it at 10 mph. The city hasn't owned a fire boat since a previous craft was sold as part of a round of budget cuts in 1974, according to news reports from the time.

“Pittsburgh is the second largest inland water port in the country,” Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones said. “Although we don't have a lot of fires in the water we still have a lot of area to protect. This boat helps us to close that gap.”

The boat will be docked at the South Side Marina near South Side Riverfront Park and staffed when needed by firefighters from the South Side and Hazelwood, Hissrich said.

Mayor Bill Peduto named the boat to honor the late Sophie Masloff, the city's only female mayor and a former city councilwoman from Squirrel Hill.

“A boat should always be named after a woman, and there's no greater woman who was a leader for city government than Mayor Masloff,” Peduto said. “There really wasn't any question, if we were naming it for a woman, which woman we should name it for.”

He said the city plans to host a christening ceremony and invite Masloff's family.

“We're extremely honored,” said Nick Busia of Carnegie, Masloff's son-in-law. “It's a big thing. It's a very expensive boat, and the city needs it with all the boats on the river now and all the buildings along the river.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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