The Coon Rapids Fire Department is now fully equipped for water rescue operations above and below the Coon Rapids Dam.
The second of two boats, a 23-foot Zodiac inflatable boat with twin 60- horsepower motors, was delivered to Fire Station 1 earlier this month.
It will be used for water rescues in the recreational pool above the dam.
The other boat, designed for use below the dam, arrived at Fire Station 1 in July. It is a 13-foot inflatable with a rigid hull and a 25-horsepower jet drive motor.
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 Capt. Mark Seaton, Coon Rapids Fire Department.
The new boats were purchased with the approval of the Coon Rapids City Council to replace the 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, Seaton said.
Since then, the department had been borrowing a boat from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
Training has been taking place on the new boats since their arrival, but for the new Zodiac, it has been limited to showing firefighters how to operate the watercraft because of the lateness of the season, Seaton said.
Scenario training or disaster drills will start next spring, he said.
The boat was purchased with two motors in case something happens that shuts down one motor, for example, a propeller striking a rock, Seaton said.
“That way we will have at least one of motors working to keep us out of trouble,” he said.
The Zodiac has the capability of a maximum speed of 35 mph and can travel the distance from the dam upstream to Anoka-Ramsey Community College in five minutes; the previous boat took 25 minutes, according to Seaton.
A feature of the Zodiac is the lighting package which enables the boat to be used for water rescue operations at night.
“That’s something we did not have before,” Seaton said.
The boat is equipped with three LED lights, plus a powerful spotlight that is remotely controlled from the boat and can rotate 360 degrees to scan not only the water but the shoreline as well, he said.
The Zodiac can hold 13 people. “There’s plenty of room for firefighters and victims,” Seaton said.
“It is an ideal water rescue boat in many different ways,” he said.
For above the dam operations, the Zodiac will typically be launched from the Anoka County Boat Launch, which is located in the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.
But that is closed right now while the reconstruction of the Coon Rapids Dam is taking place on the Anoka County side of the Mississippi River this year.
The contractor on the project has provided the fire department with a boat launch location in the event of emergencies, but for training purposes firefighters been launching the boat in the Rum River, Seaton said.
The department had originally planned to purchase a hovercraft for water rescue operations above and below the dam. The council last year had approved spending $91,800 on the hovercraft.
Delivery was scheduled in January, but numerous production delays meant the delivery date could not be 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.
The 13-foot inflatable can also be used above the dam for water rescue operations as well as below the dam, Seaton said. But it does not have the horsepower of the Zodiac to be effective in water rescue situations above the dam, he said.
The 13-foot inflatable with the rigid hull works well below the dam where the water is often shallow and has a rocky bottom, Seaton said.
Fire departments in neighboring cities on the river – Anoka-Champlin and Brooklyn Park – have boats for water rescues in their jurisdiction, so does the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
But the Coon Rapids Fire Department has the fastest response time to a river emergency because Fire Station 1 is located so close to the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park and is staffed 24/7, according to Seaton. “We can be there in 90 seconds,” Seaton said.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]