Report: D.C.'s emergency river rescue boat 'obsolete'

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The District's only rescue boat capable of handling large-scale emergencies is obsolete and its upkeep has been neglected, putting the nation's capital more at risk than other major cities if terrorists attack on the water, a report obtained by The Washington Examiner has concluded.

And city officials are not taking steps to fill that gap in area security, according to a preliminary report from the Office of the Inspector General. The city's Fire and Emergency Services Department "apparently has neither a plan for how it will replace the [50-year-old boat] nor a timetable for doing so," the report said.

The John H. Glenn Jr., is a 71-foot fireboat launched in 1962. It is docked at the Southwest Waterfront with two smaller fireboats that are less than half as long. The Glenn makes roughly 150 runs a year on the water, according to estimates by knowledgeable sources. In the winter it is the District's only means of breaking ice on the Potomac to ensure clear passage for military vehicles.

The John H. Glenn Jr.
» 71 feet long
» Launched in 1962 in NYC
» Acquired by DC in 1977
» Ice breaking capabilities added to hull in 1982
» Hull refurbished in 2003

It was dispatched as a rescue ship to the 14th Street Bridge in 1982 when a jetliner crashed into the structure, killing 70 people. More recently it served as a floating command post in 2007 when a freight train derailed over the Anacostia River.

When asked about the report, at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, said the findings showed the District did "not have the same capabilities" as other major cities. The report notes Boston and San Francisco both applied for federal grant money to update their fleets with boats that are faster and pump twice as much water.

"There's no reason why, as the nation's capital, that we don't have the best in any apparatus for fire and rescue," said Mendelson, whose committee oversees the city's Fire and EMS Department.

The department has until Monday to issue its response to the inspector general and a spokesman last week did not return requests for comment.

The Glenn is used for everything from standing by at Ronald Reagan National Airport any time a plane has trouble landing to serving as a rescue ship for the Potomac and Anacostia rivers' busy waterways. The District also has seven major bridges the Glenn must respond to, and last year the bridges were cited as a target on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The last time the Glenn's hull was thoroughly inspected using ultrasonic testing was in October 2003, the report said, despite the fact that the hull and ship have been damaged since then in two separate accidents.

The report recommends that FEMS implement a plan to apply for funding to buy a state-of-the-art fireboat.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Farmer

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner