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City of Pittsburgh eyes fireboat costing $400K

Bob Bauder
| Friday, May 13, 2016, 4:21 p.m.

When a boat caught fire on the Ohio River last fall, Pittsburgh firefighters could only watch until it drifted within reach of hoses on the shore.

Now, the city is poised to purchase a $400,000 fireboat to battle blazes along the three rivers, according to Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. He said the boat would be used for fires on water and along the shore. Pittsburgh last had a fireboat in 1973.

“We looked at some incidents not only in the city, but outside of the city where a fireboat would have been useful,” Hissrich said.

Lack of water access in March forced firefighters to truck 18 tankers, including a large one from Pittsburgh International Airport, to a fire at a former restaurant along the Allegheny River in Penn Hills. The two-story building that once housed Vicino Ristorante Italiano was destroyed.

Hissrich said a fireboat would have been able to pump river water onto the flames. Pittsburgh's Equipment Leasing Authority, which oversees purchases of all large equipment, gave preliminary approval for the purchase at its meeting in April. Funding would come from the city's 2016 capital budget. Officials estimate it would cost about $2,000 annually in maintenance.

The boat would be docked at Pittsburgh's River Rescue facility on the North Shore near PNC Park and would be capable of pumping 1,000 gallons of water per minute. Final approval is contingent on the boat being staffed only when necessary, according to meeting minutes. Leasing Authority members also wanted Fire Chief Darryl Jones to check for grant funding.

“I am researching it, and we'll go from there,” Jones said.

Firefighters union President Ralph Sicuro said the city badly needs a fireboat because of heavy river and rail traffic.

“We definitely need something because we have zero firefighting capability on our waterways,” Sicuro said. “We have a tremendous amount of hazardous materials that go up and down our rivers annually.”

Pittsburgh retired its last fireboat — christened the C.D. Scully in honor of former Mayor Cornelius D. Scully — and sold it in 1973 to Tampa for $50,000.

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

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