PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Though the city’s $500,000 fireboat is designed to fight fires, its crew and state-of-the-art sonar and infrared scopes stand ready to locate missing victims and possibly save those in distress.
But our investigation has found this apparent turf battle with EMS River Rescue across town may be relegating the fireboat and its crew to the sidelines while jeopardizing public safety.
“When there are recovery efforts within these rivers, we have specific equipment that can find and recover victims in these rivers and yet we’re told to go home,” said Fire Union President Ralph Sicuro.
The most concerning incident happened in July when a distraught woman jumped from the Homestead Grays Bridge.
According to a Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire incident report obtained by KDKA, the fireboat was the first to arrive on the scene, and although the woman had been in the water for 22 minutes, fireboat crew members intended to retrieve her from the water and begin lifesaving measures.
However, in radio communications with an EMS supervisor, the crew was told that River Rescue was en route and they should only pull her along side the boat and wait.
After the fireboat had been on the scene for five minutes, River Rescue arrived and was later heard having successfully gotten the woman onto their boat, where she was found to be deceased.
Sicuro says this is just one of a half-dozen critical incidents where the fireboat and its crew have been told to stand down.
He’s asked Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich to investigate.
“I don’t know the reasons for it. I would hope it’s not because of some turf war, but my main concern is that it should not have happened and we need to make sure it does not happen again,” he said.
A city log of fireboat calls over the past two years shows 70 of them were canceled when the boat was en route or when it arrived on scene, including this most recent report on July 31, when in process of searching for a missing man, River Rescue again told the fireboat crew their services were not needed.
Sicuro says in other instances, the boat has not been called at all, and the public and the taxpayer are being shortchanged.
“I think every citizen, every visitor who comes through these rivers should have access to every resource that we have available. It is publicly funded so we want to make sure the public is getting everything we can,” Sicuro said.
Through his public information officer, Hissrich says he is conducting an investigation, but both he and Mayor Peduto wont’ comment until that investigation is finished.