A former fire chief blessed the city’s new fire boat with a few drops of water, then the “Nathan Hale” let loose with its cannons and sent 4,800 gallons per minute into the air.
The blessing happened Monday afternoon at Long Wharf Pier, where city officials gathered to officially commission a brand new $1.32 million fire boat.
The city recently purchased the Metalcraft Firestorm 36 using grant money from the federal Department of Homeland Security. The vessel will be used by the fire and police departments for dousing fires on sea and on the shore, and search and rescue operations.
The city hasn’t had a public safety boat for 20 years, noted Mayor John DeStefano. He acknowledged former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman’s work securing the federal money to pay for the boat.
“We wish her many good and safe days,” he said of the Nathan Hale.
The boat is so named thanks to fifth-grader Josh Morgillo (at right in photo), who won a naming contest with the suggestion that the boat be named after the Revolutionary War hero.
Nathan Hale “kept everything safe,” Morgillo said. “And that’s what’s going to happen aboard this ship.”
After comments from fire Chief Michael Grant, police Lt. Jeff Hoffman, and U.S. Coast Guard Captain Joseph Vojvodich, former New Haven fire chief Marty O’Connor (pictured) sprinkled the boat with holy water and made the sign of the cross from the bow.
A crew of firefighters cast off and demonstrated the jet-propelled boat’s capabilities by pulling quick U-turns and spraying water into the air. The boat can pump over three times as much water per minute as a fire truck, said Rick Fontana, head of operations at the city’s emergency operations center. “It throws a lot of water.”
The Nathan Hale is also equipped with sonar and radar, GPS, and Forward Looking Infra-red thermal imaging, which could help the crew locate bodies in the water at night, Fontana said.
Jimmy Kottage, head of the firefighters union, has submitted an official labor complaint in response to the city’s purchase of the boat. The complaint demands that the city negotiate with union on staffing, training, and compensation standards for the new boat.
Rob Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer, and Assistant Chief Pat Egan both said the new boat does not rise to the level of a “mandatory subject of collective bargaining.”
The fire department already has a boat, Egan said.
“It’s certainly nothing of this caliber,” he said. Nevertheless, “we have procedures.”
Egan said he’s offered several times to sit down with Kottage and talk about his concerns.
“They have a million-dollar boat compared to the raft they had,” Kottage said. “They won’t negotiate.”