OTTUMWA — Spending $53,000 on a boat may seem outrageous to some, but to the fire department it was necessary.

After five months of working to get a new river rescue boat, the fire department finally got their boat on Monday. Ottumwa Fire Assistant Chief Cory Benge took it out on Monday, but Thursday was the first time firefighters Chris Cale and Jerry Lemeuse tested the capabilities of the boat.

The fire department will not have a set river rescue boat team, so every firefighter has to be familiar with the operations. “Having these guys come out and get used to the boat was necessary,” Chief Tony Miller said, “different crews will work each day until they finally get used to how the boat operates.”

Benge said the boat has different capabilities in comparison to the old one. “It’s made to be carried into other areas of water. From using it as a HAZMAT (carrying dangerous goods) to pulling people out of water. It’s so much better than what we’ve had. We want all our needs in one boat. It makes it safer for our firefighters so they don’t have to get in the water to make a rescue.”

After losing their former boat to a river rescue on October 8, 2018, Miller is grateful for the opportunity to have a boat that “does what it’s made to do.”

“It’s exactly what we needed, we got it,” Miller said, “We are getting business taken care of. We don’t care if it’s flooded or not. We got assistance. They will get what they want.”

Benge said the boat is not only necessary for the department, but also a responsibility to residents. “With our staffing and stations two and a half blocks from the river,” Benge said, “ it’s easier for us to grab the boat and it’s faster — we love the responsibility of taking care of the rescues. We want them to have the best equipment to do their jobs. It’s our responsibility to take care of it. It can be dangerous but it’s our responsibility to make those rescues.”

Benge also said it is necessary for residents especially as they engage in kayaking, swimming, or other activities along the river. “The river is getting busier. From Eddyville to Ottumwa it’s more recreationalized with kayaks,” he said. “People buy something and jump into the river without experience. It wants to make us more prepared for incidents that may happen.”

Benge hopes the city will take a liking to the boat and feel safer. “This river is iconic to this city, it’s a great asset to our community,” he said. “We want you to feel safe out there. It’s our responsibility to make it safe.”

— Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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