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D.C. fireboat can't make distress calls, needs nearly $700k in repairs

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Photo - D.C.'s fireboat (Examiner file photo)
D.C.'s fireboat (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

D.C.'s only rescue boat capable of handling large-scale emergencies has expired Coast Guard documentation, a broken communications system and needs nearly $700,000 in repairs, a report obtained by The Washington Examiner has found.

The report was commissioned by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services in May as a result of a city inspector's report that found the 50-year-old boat, the John H. Glenn Jr., was obsolete. Although the report also said that the 71-foot boat's "firefighting capability is more than adequate," it noted that substantial repairs were needed in order to meet or exceed federal and industry standards.

When asked about the report, FEMS Deputy Fire Chief for Homeland Security John Donnelly on Friday noted the report's positive assessment of the boat's firefighting function.

"None of the reports have indicated an immediate safety hazard posed by the condition of the John Glenn and to the contrary have noted that the capability is more than adequate for its intended duty," he said in an email.

Donnelly said the agency is locating funding to make the recommended repairs, which will cost an estimated $693,000.

The boat's inspection was conducted by Baltimore-based Maritime Alliance Group in May at Donnelly's request. It is expected to be released publicly as part of a larger assessment report on the District's fire stations and vessels.

Among the 20 observations made by Marine Surveyor William Riley were problems with the boat's radio and telephone systems. Riley found the Glenn's radio can't transmit an automated distress call, while the Glenn's internal telephone system also "isn't functioning properly." Instead, firefighters use a hand-cranked bell to signal between the boat's pilothouse and the engine room.

Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard documentation expired last year, though documentation is not required for such vessels, according to Riley. Donnelly said the boat's captain is getting the documentation up to date again.

The Glenn is docked at the Southwest Waterfront with two smaller fireboats and makes roughly 150 runs a year. 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.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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