Training got underway just a few days before the "David W. Russell Jr.," the Fire Department's new emergency vessel, was pressed into service when several boats caught fire Sunday afternoon at the South Benson Marina.
The new fire boat crew, along with the Police Department's marine unit, helped to remove people stranded on the marina's G dock when flames blocked their route to safety.
"We provide backup and rapid intervention for each other on the water," said Fire Lt. Roger Caisse, who has been helping to train firefighters for service on the new vessel. "We are a combined effort service."
Just like emergency calls on terra firma, Caisse said each first-responder service -- fire, police and EMS -- plays different, but complementary, roles at the scene. "The three work seamlessly to provide the best patient care we can. Our services on the water are no different."
The new 28-foot boat, named after the former fire chief who died last year, has advantages that the department's Zodiac vessel does not, Caisse said. "With our previous marine assets, we've never had firefighting capabilities," he said. "We now have the ability to pump 1,500 gallons of water per minute, the same as a Class-A pumper on land."
The boat's firefighting capabilities were not put to use in Sunday's fire, however, Assistant Fire Chief Chris Tracy said, because it would have pushed the flames from the fire into the dock, making an even more hazardous situation.
The Fire Department's other vessel is a smaller, 8-foot inflatable boat with a rigid hull, that is kept at Fire Station 1. The Russell was acquired by the department at no cost to the town from the Bridgeport Fire Department.
The new boat has space available within the enclosed cabin for patient care, as well, Caisse said. On the smaller boat, patient care must be done in the open cockpit.
Caisse said the goal is to train a sufficient number of operators on each firefighter shift "so we can answer any mission."
Training includes familiarizing personnel with the vessel's machinery, instrumentation and equipment, as well as its operation, fire pump and master stream mounted on the cabin.
"We're very proud to have this new piece of firefighting equipment," Fire Chief Richard Felner said, "and proud to have memorialized Chief Russell in such a fitting way, given his Navy background and his commitment to improving the Fire Department's water rescue capabilities."
Caisse said the Russell will be in the water for the town's Fourth of July fireworks Friday night over the local beaches.