D.C. fire dept. didn't apply for grant help for 'obsolete' fireboat

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer
The District's fire chief said his department did not apply for federal funding to replace a boat city inspectors have since deemed "obsolete" because he didn't think it would be worth the effort.

In a response to an Office of the Inspector General report, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said it would cost about $7 million to replace the 50-year-old John Glenn Jr., the District's only rescue boat capable of handling large-scale emergencies. But Ellerbe said given the average grant amount for the last three years has been less than $230,000, the city probably wouldn't get what it needs for a new boat.

"Because of our classification as an 'All Other Port Area,' it is highly unlikely that our grant application will be successful," he said in his response published with the report last week, in which he noted the nation's capital would be competing against the likes of ports in Marinette, Wis., and in Guam.

A spokesman for Ellerbe did not reply to a request for further comment.

The Washington Examiner reported in March that a preliminary report by inspectors had found the Fire and EMS boat to be obsolete and its upkeep neglected, putting the nation's capital more at risk than other major cities if terrorists attack on the water.

But Ellerbe said that unlike other major port cities, the Port of Washington has a low classification status and is competing in a smaller funding pool. Still, that funding pool doled out more than $36 million between 2009 and 2011, according to Ellerbe's response, and the highest award was nearly $2 million.

At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, whose committee has jurisdiction over FEMS, said in the past the city has successfully appealed to the federal government for help in funding homeland security needs.

Mendelson acknowledged the District's challenge in not being on the level of San Francisco or Boston, but said he thought the department should at least try.

"There can still be a conversation with the feds about [getting] a first-class boat that would serve in a boating emergency, a major fire, accident or a terrorist attack," Mendelson said.

Ellerbe also addressed the inspector's concern that the boat, which first launched during the John F. Kennedy administration, had not received ultrasonic testing on its hull in nearly a decade. The boat is currently being examined, Ellerbe said, and will be scheduled for the extensive inspection afterward.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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