Work on track for South Whidbey Fire/EMS boat

Standing in front of the 32-foot long, shiny aluminum catamaran at Tim Leonard’s Freeland shop, it’s easy to envision the marine response vessel cruising through choppy Puget Sound waters.

Work was coming along well during a recent visit to the first-time boat building company, North Cross Aluminum, at Leonard’s home and shop. Leonard, half his body in one of the two 430 horsepower engine compartments, reflected on the work that went into the future South Whidbey Fire/EMS boat.

“It’s a serious boat, it’s a serious project,” Leonard said.

“It’s crazy to be on an island and not have a high-speed boat.”

South Whidbey Fire/EMS received $350,000 from a Federal Emergency Management Association grant and will pay the remainder of the $483,000 tab from district coffers.

Leonard and his crew of metal workers have worked on the boat since July, though they were awarded the contract in April. Engineering specifications were hashed out for a couple of months before any fabrication began at the shop. He estimated about 20 people have worked on the new fire boat. That includes one recent addition to replace the project’s lead, Robert Roane, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash in August.

Brett Harvey, a longtime metal worker, was brought in to aid the boat’s progress. Now, Leonard and Co. are waiting on the electrical system to be installed and for the fire pump to arrive.

Original designs called for a five-inch pump on the pilot house cannon. As the boat was crafted, however, it became clear that a three-inch pump was needed, and Palmer said it cost the same.

The new $500,000 marine response boat was designed to fight fires from and on the water, as well as quickly respond to any distress calls around South Whidbey’s shores. It will have four GPS systems, and water cannons called monitors atop the pilot house and at the bow that pump 750 gallons of seawater per minute.

“It’s not just a boat with a squirt gun on top,” Leonard said.

Recently, South Whidbey Fire/EMS considered five change orders totaling $8,000 for the boat. They covered items like sound-deadening material above the engine compartment doors to keep the monstrous motors as silent as possible on the deck, the oil change process for the engines, and zinc plates used to keep the hull intact, which are mounted on the motors’ jets.

Fire district commissioners approved three of the change orders — a new oil change system, a Garmin depth finder and sound-deadening insulation — totaling $4,088. Even with the added cost, the boat is well within the project’s 10 percent reserve of $50,000.

Construction of the boat is expected to wrap up by mid-December. Sea trials are slated for Dec. 15.

Choosing a name for the vessel has yet to occur. Palmer said the fire protection district is considering a community naming contest, but if that comes about he’d still like the name to represent South Whidbey.

“What I’d like to see is we tie it to South Whidbey Island,” he said. “It’s this community that is providing it.”


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