To reach South King Fire and Rescue’s new fire boat, you have to walk past the old vessel housed at the Des Moines Marina.
Despite providing rescue services in south Puget Sound for almost 40 years, the white 32-foot fire boat, built in 1985, looks far less powerful than its sleek aluminum 43-foot replacement poised at the end of the dock.
South King Fire’s new Maritime Emergency Response Vessel — fire boat 367 known as “Zenith” — holds 300 gallons of fuel and can pump 3,000 gallons of water per minute, which is equivalent to approximately two fire engines.
“This will help people along the south Puget Sound corridor, between Seattle and Tacoma,” said Fire Chief Dave Mataftin. “It’s a regional asset.”
Fire officials say Zenith will serve communities beyond SKFR’s main jurisdictions of Federal Way and Des Moines.
The fire boat is especially helpful in transporting patients to the mainland from Vashon Island and Maury Island, who otherwise would need to be airlifted or transported via ferry, said Mataftin, adding that the fire boat has the ability to transport several sick or injured at one time under any weather conditions 24/7.
Firefighters at station 67 and crew members of the department’s marine team are working to learn the ins and outs of their state-of-the-art vessel and its technology. A date for beginning service has not been set.
The Marine Team is comprised of 13 certified marine pilots, supported by a number of trained deckhands, and is led by South King Fire and Rescue Captain Jerry Clos.
Zenith has three water canons, tow posts, a radar, and a rotating thermal camera, according to Metal Shark Boats, the Louisiana-based company that built the vessel. The five-seat interior has spacious work areas to allow crews to move easily from bow to stern, and hold additional passengers as duty calls.
In 2013, the department responded to a fire in the Des Moines Marina with the fire boat, battling flames that burned two people and damaged several vessels. That was the last major incident needing the fire boat’s power, said Capt. Brad Chaney of South King Fire.
Typically, the fire boat is used to tow watercrafts in distress, tend to shoreline or beach fires or assist swimmers in distress. With the new boat, the department can assist others in firefighting, water rescues with surface water swimmers and rescue divers, area searching with infrared camera equipment, and the transportation of police and equipment to areas on the water.
“In general terms, water-based emergencies are problematic by nature. A backup crew can be a very long response time away requiring another boat,” he said. “When I built the specifications for this boat, I tried to address the project with as much regional response capability in mind as possible.”
In the South King response area, several homes on or close to the water pose extreme difficulties for land-based fire engines to access during an emergency, Mataftin said.
“We now have the ability to either fight the fire directly from the water or provide an endless source of water supply to land-based fire crews,” he said.
While the department originally planned for the new fire boat to be in service in August 2021, the project started with a slight delay due to a backlog of prior orders at the factory, then additional labor shortages caused by the pandemic, Mataftin said.
“When our boat went into production the factory encountered long lead times for critical components,” Mataftin said. “This included the diesel engines and fire pumps.”
Funding for the fire boat comes from a $750,000 Department of Commerce grant from the 2020 Washington state operating budget, in addition to funds from SKFR’s 2021 budget. In total, the vessel cost $1,320,618, according to the department.
The boat will be in service after members have had appropriate training and familiarization, according to SKFR.