PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There was a lot of excitement when the city announced last year that it was getting its first fireboat in more than 40 years.READ MORE: Pittsburghers Have Mixed Reactions To Weekend Traffic Restrictions On East Carson Street
But that excitement is now turning into concerns about high maintenance costs and how little the vessel has been used so far.
Shoving off from the South Side Marina is the Sophie Masloff, Pittsburgh’s half-million dollar, state-of-the-art fireboat. Tricked out with sonar and infrared cameras for night vision, it has an inexhaustible supply of water in the rivers themselves.
The boat does have amazing capabilities. It has a nozzle that sprays 2,000 gallons a minute at a distance of about 100 yards.
The city purchased the boat a year ago after a pleasure boat caught fire on the Allegheny River, and the Liberty Bridge almost went up in flames.
Chief Darryl Jones say that as a major inland port, Pittsburgh needs it to respond to such incidents, which, though rare, can be catastrophic.
“Events on the water, they are low-frequency but they are high-risk, and we need to make sure that we’re prepared for those events,” said Chief Jones, of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.
But in the year since the city got the boat, there have been no incidents at all. There are, however, questions about how well it could respond should an emergency occur.
“We cannot effectively and safely deliver that service at this moment in time,” said Ralph Sicuro, the president of Pittsburgh Firefighters’ Union Local #1.READ MORE: Man Accused Of Beating His 5-Year-Old Son To Death With Baseball Bat Could Face Death Penalty
The city’s trained more than 100 firefighters on how to operate the boat, but a policy on how they will be deployed is a problem. Right now, firefighters would be called from the closest fire station on 18th Street on the South Side, which is about a mile and half away.
Sicuro says, in traffic, it could take more than 10 minutes to get to the boat, and another 10 or so to get it out on the water.
“There would definitely be a significant delay in deployment of this vessel at this current time, and I can’t assure you at this moment in time that we would have the proper staffing ready to go,” said Sicuro.
While Sicuro believes that the obvious answer is full-time staffing at the dock, the city has concerns — money is chief among them.
Chief Jones says full-time, on-site staffing would cost roughly $1.2 million a year, and so the city’s still studying alternatives.
“We haven’t had a boat in 40 years. There’s a learning curve and we’re going through that curve. We’re going to figure it out,” he said.
But these days, the boat mostly sits unattended, which has led to maintenance concerns and some costly repairs. And after a year in limbo, the union has grown impatient.
“My members and I are definitely frustrated that we can’t seem to get this wrapped up, and get this thing moving forward,” Sicuro said.
But the chief says he won’t be rushed.MORE NEWS: Upper St. Clair Family Starts Non-Profit Organization To Honor Son Who Died Of Kidney Disease
“I tell people all the time, we can do this right, and you can have it right, or you can have it now, but you can’t have it right now. I prefer to do it right,” Chief Jones said.