The first of two boats that the Coon Rapids Fire Department has purchased for water rescue operations above and below the Coon Rapids Dam is now in operation.
This boat, designed for use below the dam, is a 13-foot inflatable with a rigid hull and a 25 horsepower jet drive motor.
The second boat expected to be delivered in the next three weeks will be used above the dam. It’s a 21-foot Zodiac with twin 35 horsepower motors for a total of 70 horsepower.
These boats will replace a boat the fire department had been using both above and below the dam that was taken out of service last year because it had leaks, was not powerful enough to deal with the currents above the dam and was not safe to operate, according to Capt. Mark Seaton, Coon Rapids Fire Department.
“The boat was 17 years old when the manufacturer’s expected life span was 15 years,” Seaton said.
“We have had something less than what we need for years.”
Since then, the department has been using a boat that it has borrowed from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
The department had originally planned to purchase a hovercraft for water rescue operations above and below the dam and the Coon Rapids City Council last year had approved spending $91,800 on the hovercraft.
Delivery was scheduled in January, but numerous production delays meant the delivery date was not met and the fire department canceled the order this past spring, according Fire Chief John Piper.
The two new boats combined cost $78,000, less than the hovercraft’s price tag, Piper said.
Both the new boats will be housed at Fire Station 1, which is located on Egret Boulevard just north of Coon Rapids Boulevard and a short distance from the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.
The 13-foot inflatable can also be used above the dam for water rescue operations as well as below the dam, Seaton said.
In fact, firefighters have been training on the use of the boat above the dam since it arrived, he said.
But that boat does not have the horsepower that the Zodiac has to make it effective in water rescue operations above the dam, Seaton said.
With the Anoka County Boat Launch in the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park closed because of the Coon Rapids Dam reconstruction project now in progress, the contractor on the project, Edward Kraemer and Sons, Inc., has created an emergency boat launch for the fire department above the dam, according to Seaton.
“They have been very cooperative,” Seaton said.
There is currently no boat launch below the dam, but the parks departments of Anoka County and city of Coon Rapids are working on a project to install a boat launch for emergency purposes, which is scheduled to be completed this fall, he said.
The 13-foot inflatable with the rigid hull will work well below the dam where the water is often shallow and has a rocky bottom, Seaton said.
“It is a faster boat than he had before,” he said.
And with its rigid hull, it will be effective in conditions below the dam that range from one-foot deep water with big rocks to 30 feet deep, Seaton said.
“It has no propeller to bang up and nothing is hanging below the keel of the boat,” he said.
“We will be able to cover a lot more of the river below the dam than we could before.”
According to Seaton, the boat will also be to carry more people.
Typically, there will be two firefighters on the boat during a water rescue, one to operate the boat and the other to rescue people from the river, Seaton said.
This boat will give the fire department more capacity to carry multiple victims, he said.
The Zodiac, a much more powerful boat, is designed to be effective above the dam where the water is deep and the currents are stronger, according to Seaton.
It will be able to maintain speed over a long stretch of water, Seaton said.
For example, the old boat took 25 minutes to go from the dam to Anoka-Ramsey Community College, he said.
The Zodiac with its 70 horsepower will take five or six minutes to travel that distance and even the inflatable with its 25 horsepower motor only takes 13 minutes, Seaton said.
“It will increase the timeliness of our response,” he said.
According to Seaton, 911 calls on the Anoka County side of the river will come to the fire department which will respond while at the same time calling water rescue teams in the Hennepin County of the river to provide double coverage.
The same is true if Hennepin County responders get the 911 call; they contact the Coon Rapids Fire Department, Seaton said.
“We have a dual response,” he said.
In choosing the water craft replacement, Seaton was part of a committee that also comprised firefighters Dave Bruneau and Paul Metz.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]