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New Duluth-Superior fire boat to improve port security and safety

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A $447,750 grant to fund a new emergency response boat for the port of Duluth-Superior was approved by the Port Security Grant program this week.

The Duluth and Superior fire departments will use the boat to improve their response along the 49 miles of shoreline that make up the Duluth-Superior port area, a Duluth Fire Department news release states.

The "all-hazard quick response vessel" will be 31 feet long and 10 1/2 feet at its widest point with twin 300-horsepower outboard engines. According to the news release, the boat will provide "additional fire suppression, environmental response, search/rescue, medevac and emergency medical capabilities to the region."

The fire departments hope to begin using the boat by spring 2017, the news release states. The Duluth Fire Department will host a press conference at 2 p.m. today at Pier B Resort.

The fire departments plan to equip the boat with a thermal-imaging night-vision camera; side-scan sonar, radar and GPS navigation; a 2,000-gallon-per-minute fire pump; a roof-mounted 1,500-gallon-per-minute monitor; shallow draft for better accessibility; a firefighting foam injection system; and a large-diameter water discharge.

The boat, which will dock at Pier B Resort, also will have the ability to travel at high speeds and hold eight people.

The fire departments collaborated on the grant, according to the news release, and will match 25 percent of the overall grant cost $149,250 as part of grant requirements.

Duluth currently uses a 12-foot inflatable boat and two water rescue boards for port-area emergencies. Superior's emergency vessel is 22 feet long and does not meet needs of the port, the news release states.

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office upgraded its rescue boat in 2010 when it acquired a vessel from Lake Assault Boats designed to assist in search-and-rescue missions, said St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips. Although the St. Louis County boat and the Duluth-Superior boat will be equipped differently, Phillips said the upgrade in technology has been invaluable.

"We can locate a drowning victim in the middle of the night out on Lake Superior in pea-soup fog," Phillips said. "That's how far the technology has come in the last few years."

Phillips affectionately refers to the boat as a "floating pickup truck" for its ability to handle rough waters. He said the Duluth-Superior boat would fill a need for emergency response on Lake Superior.

"This would be a large-capacity fire boat," Phillips said, adding the new boat will have a sea chest, or grated opening, to provide lake water for firefighting. "It's a good asset for the port."