New boat gives Fla. city speed and punch needed to fight fires

With 2,100 linear miles of waterway meandering within the 840-square-mile area comprising the city, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department of Florida felt under-equipped.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department's new 70-foot high-speed aluminum fireboat, propelled by four 1,015-hp Cat diesels powering Hamilton water jets, is capable of exceeding 40 knots. (Brian Gauvin photo)

"We needed a fast boat to cover the spread," said Capt. Scott Turnbull, who, along with engineers Stephen Szczepanik and Brian Peterson, were running their new fireboat, a FireStorm 70 designed and built by MetalCraft Marine, through its paces on the St. Johns River in early February.

In 1993 the department was called upon to fight a huge petroleum tank farm fire that raged for three days. Along with speed, pumping capacity had risen to the forefront of the department's requirements for a new fireboat.

"The main reason we ordered this boat was for her speed and for the volume of water we could direct towards potential fires at the numerous petroleum storage farms in the area," said Turnbull.

Feeding the five monitors are the boat's two fire pumps moving over 14,000 gpm at 150 psi and almost 18,000 gpm at 120 psi. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Based in Kingston, Ontario, MetalCraft Marine built the hull platform using its own proprietary design, which gives the FireStorm class of fireboats their higher speed. In addition, the patented sea chest design greatly boosts the vessel's pumping capacity. The company's website provides a brief description of its FireStorm boats (

Jacksonville's FireStorm 70 (Tampa has a 69-foot version) is propelled by four Caterpillar 1,015-hp C-18 diesels driving Hamilton 403 water jets. ZF provided the gears for the mains and the Hale pumps. The pumps shoot over 14,092 gpm at 150 psi and 17,892 gpm at 120 psi. The fire monitors are a 5,000-gpm Stang remote on the wheelhouse roof, two remote 2,500-gpm Elkhart monitors on the fore deck and two 2,000-gpm manual Elkhart monitors on the aft deck.

The boat, funded by a federal port security grant, is built and equipped to combat chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear and explosive attacks and accidents.

The crew comprising Capt. Turnbull, center; and Engineers Szczepanik, left, and Peterson, right. (Brian Gauvin photo)

"We wanted to address the needs of Homeland Security and protect the public," said Turnbull.

The FireStorm 70, with a draft of 3 feet 10 inches, cannot ply the shallower stretches of the long reach of waterway within the city limits; so three years ago, to reach farther into the shallows, the department acquired a FireStorm 50, with a draft of 2.5 feet, from MetalCraft.

In the deeper channels, however, where the FireStorm 70 can run, water flies and water parts as the hull lifts up and over the hump to plane at up to 41 knots.

"We respond to all kinds of crazy stuff — people getting their boat stuck in the mud to full blown refinery fires," said Turnbull.

By Professional Mariner Staff