NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The town’s rescue fire boat has been out of service for the last several months, purportedly leaving many lives in jeopardy because of the fire department’s inability to respond to a crisis on the water, according to Fire Chief Scott Kettelle.
“The risk is apparent,” the chief said after reciting a number of potential problems that could develop into more serious issues if the town doesn’t rescue from drydock its own boat — which needs a $100,000 engine replacement.
The boat, which went into service in 2014, originally cost almost $700,000 and was funded through a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant. One of two engines has seized, but both need to be replaced for the boat and firefighting operations to work properly, the chief explained.
The town council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to fund the repairs, but not before strong opposition from council members Kerry McKay and Richard Welch. Both were concerned about North Kingstown taxpayers footing the bill rather than seeking out money from other sources, such as federal and state government funds.
Kettelle began his pitch for the money, following private discussions with individual council members about the need. He framed his approach in terms of the risks the town faces because of water-based activities that could need assistance the boat brings. He said:
1,650 personal watercraft are docked in North Kingstown.
1,194 trips occurred last season with the Fast Ferry located in Quonset Point.
195 “super vessels” — large ships transporting goods and materials to the Port of Davisville in Quonset — visited that port last year.
Each year about four people jump from the Jamestown Bridge in suicide attempts requiring fire department response and at least twice a year North Kingstown is asked to help Newport with people jumping from the Newport Bridge.
“Most people survive a jump from the Jamestown Bridge,” he said. “The need for the fire department to get there quickly, with our mechanical equipment, rescue them and get them on board, cannot be overstated,” Kettelle said, adding medical equipment is also needed.
He also referenced unusual circumstances that could arise, such in 2004 when a large tanker with ammonium nitrate was listing – leaning to one side — and needed to reach a port of refuge for help. Davisville qualified under federal rules and the vessel brought to dock there 14 million pounds of chemical to be off loaded, he said.
However, McKay took a different point of view than the chief.
“When you own a boat, you absorb a certain element of risk. Unfortunately, when the water is involved, you or anyone else cannot guarantee 100 percent safety in the water,” said McKay, who acknowledged he supports other fire-department related activities.
“I appreciate your very dramatic response that you’ve come up with here tonight, but, you know, I am a very good steward of the tax dollars,” he said, questioning the need for town funds to pay for repairs and calling a separate town account funded by rescue billing and insurance a slush fund.
Kettelle countered him, saying any money used from the rescue fund must be authorized by the town council.
Council member Welch said he supports rescue efforts, but cannot support this expense without some state or federal assistance.
Noting that taxpayer dollars should be a concern, council member Stacey Elliott said, “We also need to be stewards of their (residents) safety. That should be our number one job.”
Council President Greg Mancini and member Mary Brimer also supported funding the repairs.
“I think the chief knows what he needs and what’s best. That’s why we hired him. We should defer to his expertise,” Mancini said after the vote to approve the new engines. The chief said he expects repairs to take about a month.