By David Anderson
Members of the Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace recently received surprise news that state bond funding was approved to help with the purchase of a new fire and rescue boat.
The Maryland House of Delegates approved a capital spending package for fiscal 2016 on April 2 that includes $100,000 toward the new boat.
“We now have sufficient funds for the boat, [but] not quite enough to get it fully equipped,” Hose Company President Charlie Packard said during a community dinner sponsored by the fire company, also on April 2, held to celebrate the fire company’s latest insurance rating.
“We are on our way with the boat,” Packard told the audience. “The one big item that the [fire] chief and I have debated for so long: how do we fund it?”
Last November, Havre de Grace city officials agreed to allocate up to $300,000 over four fiscal years to help purchase the boat and related equipment.
Packard and Fire Chief Scott Hurst noted they also need Harford County to contribute funds, which could be as much as $100,000, to properly equip the new boat.
“The city has stepped up; the state has stepped up,” Packard said while looking toward County Councilman Curtis Beulah, who represents the Havre de Grace area. “The county kind of fits in the middle.”
The new vessel would replace the company’s current 25-year-old boat which is used on marine fires, rescues and medical calls throughout the Upper Chesapeake Bay region.
“It’s really not fair to the citizens of Havre de Grace to fund that full bill,” Packard said.
Beulah asked how much money the fire company would need from the county for the boat and equipment.
“Long story short, we’re probably going to need another $100,000,” Hurst replied.
Hurst and Packard described their desired equipment and boat features, including a side-scanning sonar to help divers when they are recovering a body, an enclosed, heated cabin to protect company personnel when responding in cold weather, as well as people pulled out of the water, and a design that will allow the company to keep the boat in the water all year.
“Some of the worst calls we’ve had for the boat have been in December,” Packard said.
Keeping the boat in its slip at the marina off Tydings Park 12 months a year would cut response times, according to company leaders, who want a boat that has a service life of 30 years. When not in the water, the current boat is stored in the company’s Market Street firehouse.
“We want to get what’s right,” Packard said. “We want to get what’s going to last us.”
The company’s existing boat is often the first responder for emergencies in the waters off Cecil, Kent and Harford counties, SHCO officials said, and is also used by Harford County’s Technical Rescue Team for swift-water rescues.
It has been called into service when the rescue team responds during storms in Baltimore County, Hurst said.
Fire Lt. Charlie Jones, chairman of the company’s boat committee, said the new boat will be a “multi-mission capability platform,” and should have the same lifesaving gear found in an ambulance.
Jones said about 95 percent of the boat’s calls involve emergency medical care.
Beulah said he would see what he could do in terms of funding from the county’s end.
“Our goal is to hopefully put a boat in the water next year,” Packard said. “We don’t want to put a boat in that we can’t equip.”
Company leaders praised Harford Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, who represented the Havre de Grace area on the County Council until she was elected to the House in 2014.
Lisanti sponsored a bond bill for the boat funding on the House side, and Sen. Robert Cassilly and his two fellow Harford senators sponsored a companion bill on the Senate side.
Lisanti said the boat funding was part of a capital budget reconciliation bill approved by the House, although the bill still must be signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, and then the money will be available when the 2015-2016 fiscal year begins July 1.
Final work on the new budget is running behind schedule and with the General Assembly session scheduled to end April 13, Hogan issued an executive order this week extending the session for at least 10 days for legislators to complete the budget.
“It’s so important to public safety in the Upper Bay,” Lisanti said of the new boat.
Lisanti noted legislators typically don’t support bond funding for fire and rescue boats because other sources are available. They supported the Havre de Grace boat funding, however, “because they realized the significance of the response time in the Upper Bay.”