To Keep Rescue Boat Afloat, Whitefish Fire Department Lays Plans for Repairs

The city purchased the 2003 fire and rescue boat at auction in 2012 for incident responses on Whitefish Lake

By Mike Kordenbrock
Aerial view of Whitefish Lake. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish Fire Department’s rescue boat will be headed to Idaho for some much-needed repairs and updates, following a Feb. 20 city council vote to award a contract for repairs on the 21-year-old watercraft to Riddle Marine in Lewiston, Idaho.

In a staff reported submitted to the council ahead of their recent meeting, Fire Chief Cole Hadley described concerning incidents last summer in which outdated bilge pumps on the boat became stuck in place, draining the boat’s batteries, disabling it for emergency response, and causing the boat to take on water and nearly sink.   

There are other problems with the boat, too, including its 1999 Mercury Sport Jet 240 engine, which Hadley says in his report is undersized for the 28-foot boat, is not fuel efficient, and is outdated to the point that parts are no longer available for repair and maintenance. The boat’s imaging transducer, a piece of equipment which uses sonar for subsurface imaging, is also no longer working, according to the fire chief.

“Updating the boat with a modern engine and bilge blower system will bring it into USCG (U.S. Coast Guard) compliance and provide a safe fire/rescue and hazardous materials response platform for Whitefish Lake,” Hadley’s report says.

The city purchased the 2003 landing craft fire and rescue boat at auction in 2012 for incident responses on Whitefish Lake, and Hadley told the council it has been “a great asset” and “essential on many rescue responses on the lake.”

In full, the list of work Riddle Marine will undertake includes: replacing and disposing of nonfunctioning or outdated components; adding updated firefighting jet pump equipment; modifying the bottom, front deck and engine compartment to accept new power and propulsion mechanisms; hull preservation; paint refurbishment and replacement of vinyl wrap; ensuring compliance with USCG safety regulations and firefighting standards; and testing, certification and warranty of all major components of the boat upon completion of repairs and updates.

The city received just one other bid for the repair work, which came from Miracle Marine in Potosi, Missouri. That bid, for $95,900, would cost an additional $6,000 for the cost of shipping the boat to Missouri. In the case of Riddle Marine in Lewiston, which bid $92,960, there is no additional cost for transport, and the boat can be delivered by trailer.

The council voted unanimously to approve giving the bid to Riddle Marine, with the exception of Councilor Steve Qunell, who was absent from the meeting.

Payment for the repairs will come from a combination of the fire department’s machinery and equipment budget, and a $25,000 grant from the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railway Foundation.