The Middletown Town Council voted to replace the town's failing fire rescue boat at a cost of $79,474 during Monday night's meeting.
The 14-year-old vessel was deemed structurally deficient in a survey by Johnson Marine Services in 2012. Although Marine-1 is still seaworthy, its hull was compromised after a door was cut into its starboard side to make the boat more conducive to deep water rescues shortly after its purchase in 1999. The intention was to allow emergency personnel to more easily move injured or unconscious people from the water. This design, however, causes great amounts of water to seep in and swamp the boat's cockpit.
"The door was cut too low and it will sink," said Fire Chief Ronald Doire. "It actually has sunk during a training mission before."
The boat's stability continues to decrease when operated in rough seas, and the 2012 survey stated that with increased use, came increase risk that a major structural failure could undermine rescue operations.
The replacement boat will be a fully customizable RIBCraft 6.8 meter rigid hull inflatable design — a standard in rescue operations.
According to Doire the boat would have a 20-year life expectancy.
"There are safety concerns with using that boat for a water rescue and that my concern with replacing it," said Doire.
Middletown partakes in a mutual aid agreement with Newport, Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton and Diore said it was the town's responsibility to maintain its equipment in order to fulfill its obligations to keep residents and visitors safe across Newport County.
"We were told the integrity of the hull is compromised, it was evaluated professionally and told it was necessary to replace and with this boat, replacing it is meeting the minimum function," said Councilor Bruce Long. "We need to provide service to the people of Middletown and the users of the facilities are guaranteed that they are receiving high performance in a sanitary manner and that it is healthy."
Council Vice President Robert Sylvia disagreed. Sylvia said replacing the boat was too costly and argued that the town should look into using the harbor master's boat as both a pump-out boat and emergency rescue vessel. Doire said that while the Marine-1 replacement vessel would be similar in design to the town's harbormaster vessel it would be difficult to equip with emergency response supplies.
Annually, Doire estimated that Marine-1 makes up to 18 water rescues, but noted that the number of rescues has increased in recent years with the growing popularity of paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing and other ocean sports.