Four Fireboats

In broad terms, there are two kinds of modern fireboats. You’ve got your major platform vessels with massive pumping power and full capacity for other emergency operations, from diving to incident command. But these boats are big, heavy, relatively slow and very expensive.

The other kind of modern fireboat is fast-response. There’s less pumping power and space, but they’re faster and more budget-friendly.

As it happens, perfect examples of both types are currently under construction at two Pacific Northwest shipyards.

In Seattle, Foss Maritime is well along with the first of two big fireboats for the Port of Long Beach, Calif. Designed by Robert Allan Ltd. (RAL) in Vancouver, British Columbia, the new boats measure 108’×35′ and will have 40,000-gpm pumping capacity. The overall look, hull shape and cycloidal propulsion of these boats are very similar to a RAL-designed fireboat built for the Port of Los Angeles about 10 years ago by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Freeland, Wash.

In Portland, Ore., Oregon Iron Works (OIW) is well along with the design and construction of two 40-knot fast-response boats for its home city. Here, the need for speed is paramount because the 54’×16′ boats will have to respond all along the lower Columbia River from Astoria to the Bonneville Dam, a range of about 150 miles. OIW has been building high-end specialty craft for military customers for many years, and it’s looking to expand into municipal and commercial markets, especially with fast-response boats.


The city of Portland is also upgrading its fireboat fleet, but with a mandate to provide emergency response on long stretches of both the Columbia and Willamette rivers, its new boats must be both fast and durable.

“The city wanted a 20-year service life,” said Josh Pruzek, vice president, marine division, at Oregon Iron Works, Clackamas, Ore. “They wanted a craft that would grow with them for more than five to seven years, which is the typical service life you might find on some of the lower cost vessels.”

Founded in 1944, OIW has been a pioneer in fabrication and manufacturing. The company now works in a wide variety of sectors, including marine, aerospace, nuclear, transit and renewable energy industries. Its products range from complex bridges to sophisticated military patrol craft built with steel, stainless steel, aluminum and titanium.

On the marine side, OIW has been building boats since 1984 and has delivered more than 300 vessels, many of them for the Army Special Forces and other military buyers. With this background, OIW sees an opening in fast-response boats. “We looked at the fireboat market as it existed, and we saw an opportunity for a high quality, higher end, technologically rich, fast-response, fire, dive-support, port-security vessel,” said Pruzek. “There are certainly a number of low-end product offerings out there.”

The technologically rich elements of the new Portland fireboats include automatic compensation for the recoil from the water cannons and fully integrated controls for fast and agile maneuvering.

“This control includes bucket position for the waterjets, nozzle position, interceptor position and engine rpm,” said Pruzek. “Everything is in a single control to make the craft easy to operate and very maneuverable.

“The beauty of an integrated system is that the operator doesn’t have to have five hands. All you have to do is move the stick over, and it will allow you to maneuver tightly without having to figure out how much tab or how much engine rpm and so forth.”

The new boats will also have an integrated hydraulics system with a hydraulic bowthruster.

The systems will have the ability to pump from a 0.4 percent foam concentrate to an 8 percent concentrate through a wide gallon-per-minute range, a feature that Portland fire department project manager Tim Von Seggern said is unique. “There’s nothing out there like that,” he said. “It’s a custom system that Oregon Iron has designed and built for these boats.”

The two 54’×16′ fireboats will be powered by twin MTU 8V2000 M84 engines, each rated at 1,085 hp at 2,450 rpm. The MTUs will turn ZF 665TS reduction gears and Rolls-Royce FF450S waterjets. Top speed will be about 40 knots.

For firefighting, each MTU will also drive a 3,500-gpm fire pump on the front end.

“But these are going to be flooded pumps,” said Von Seggern, “so we’re probably looking at 8,000 gallons per minute out of both pumps.”

The boats will have three monitors, two on the bow and one on top of the cabin, as well as numerous hose connections both forward and aft.

The concept design and performance specs were put together by Jensen Maritime Consultants, Seattle, but the final hull form was produced by Donald L. Blount and Associates Inc., Chesapeake, Va.

The contract delivery for the two boats is next August, but OIW expects to deliver the first one next spring.

OIW is also working on a third hull of the same size and shape on spec. “We’re hoping to find a customer that can specify the engines and waterjets, too,” said Pruzek. “The idea is to shorten the acquisition time for a new customer by having a hull largely ready to outfit. The custom boat fabrication cycle can take some time when you’re starting from scratch.”

The total cost of the two new Portland fast-responders is just over $5 million, according to Pruzek.

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