By Karen Zautyk
The other afternoon, driving past the Kearny Fire Department headquarters on Midland Ave., we saw parked outside a large army troop truck, complete with camouflage.
“What’s that for?” we asked. And a friend answered, “Maybe they’re getting ready for an attack.”
After having also seen Marine 3, the latest addition to the KFD firefighting arsenal, we wondered. It’s a sleek, swift, turbo-charged vessel with a landing-craft portal that reminds one of the Higgins Boats that poured soldiers onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It even has a “gun” on the bow.
But not to worry. This gun shoots onlywater, at a rate of 1,250 gallons per minute. It will be on the attack, against flames , Marine 3 — perhaps it will get a more personalized name sometime in the future — is a 25 1/2-foot-long fireboat, the first fireboat in the history of the department.
Purchased with a 2010 Port Security FEMA grant of $345,000 (which included funding for its state-of-theart trailer), Marine 3 was built to KFD specifications by Lake Assault Boats of Superior, Wisc.
Kearny took delivery May 20, and the vessel is now undergoing shakedown/training cruises in local waters. While all members of the department will receive what’s called “Swift Water Awareness” training, the boat will be primarily manned by members of Engine 3, headquartered on Midland Ave., and Engine 1, on Davis Ave.
KFD Capt Michael Livolsi, explained, “Right now, we’re testing the boat and developing general operating guidelines and conducting training.”
Capt. Joseph Mastandrea, who is in overall charge of the training, said the goal is to have it completed and the boat fully in service within a few months.
Last week, we were privileged to accompany Mastandrea, Livolsi (the chief pilot), Capt. Dennis Hyde and Firefighters Dave Auerbach and Jed Schappert on a training trip up the Passaic River, from the North Arlington Fire Department boat launch off River Road north to Wallington.
We would have gone farther, except our path was blocked by a Wallington bridge (I do not know its name) that offered absolutely no overhead clearance and, from the looks of the bridge mechanism (rusted gears), likely had not been opened since the Industrial Revolution.
Besides, we learned, to get certain Passaic River bridges opened for watercraft, one must give advance notice — four hours for the Bellville Pike bridge, six hours for the Lyndhurst bridge.
Overhead clearance beneath the Lyndhurst bridge when we sailed through shortly after high tide was a mere 6 inches. Luckily, Marine 3 was designed with a cabin-top navigational arch (containing antennas and a camera) that can be lowered to maneuver through tight spaces.
It was design details like that, suited to particular needs on local waters, that were determine d by the KFD committee that prepared the grant application and design specs.
Said KFD Chief Steve Dyl, “I want to thank all the committee members for all their hard work.”
Those members were Mastandrea, Livolsi, Hyde, Deputy Chief John Harris, Firefighters Mike Golon and Matt Mitchell and retired Firefighter Jack Pettigrew.
As Mastandrea explained, “They assisted in determining what kind of vessel was needed, what it needed to do, its capabilities, the selection of equipment and it design.”
Before final approval was given to the purchase, Mastandrea and Harris travelled to Wisconsin to inspect the craft.
The committee also assisted in obtaining a 2011 Port Security grant of $297,000, which went toward equipment such as the onboard infrared camera, which projects images in reaction to heat. “It’s like the thermal-imaging cameras we carry into burning buildings,” Livolsi noted.
He gave us a demonstration of it and the mobile data terminal, computer/radar navigational system which details the channel, the water’s depth and the size and position of objects beneath the surface. It’s all “invaluable, especially when we have a call at night,” Livolsi said.
But even with all the hightech gear, a pilot cannot concentrate solely on computer screens. Of equal importance are the human eyes, trained on the river itself, trained to detect changes in the current and subtle ripples on the surface of the water which could indicate a submerged obstacle.
Learning how to “read the river” is also part of the ongoing education of those who will serve aboard Marine 3.
The boat will be used to fight building and bridge fires, pumping water from the river through the aforementioned deck gun or by feeding the water through a hose to supply fire engines on land.
It will be used in rescue and recovery. “There have been situations when people went into the river, and all we could do was stand on land and watch,” Mastandrea recalled.
It can maneuver equally well in deep water or shallows, as little as 14 inches shallow.
And it is fast. With its twin engines, 250 HP each, “it will top out at 50 mph, about 44 knots,” Mastandrea said.
Because it was funded through a federal Port Security grant, Marine 3 will also provide any assistance required by the U.S. Coast Guard. And, “it can be called for service anywhere in the Port of New York and New Jersey,” the captain said.