LAKE WYLIE--The New Hope Volunteer Fire Department has been protecting Gaston County by land for more than 50 years. Now the department is adding a new approach.
By early June, the department's first fire boat should be ready to respond on Lake Wylie. "Chief Sloan Pettus," christened after the first leader of New Hope, becomes the first fire boat in Gaston County.
"We're getting a lot of different options, and really don't know what we've got right now until we get out there and use it," said fire chief Mike McKay. "Some of this is kind of going to be a trial by error. I don't mean to make it sound like we don't know what we're doing, but it's just so new to us. It's new to all of Gaston County."
The $188,000 boat will be staged at Harbortowne Marina. At 28 feet long, the boat includes a foam extinguishing system, two-patient spineboard transport and 300-foot range deluge gun able to pump 1,750 gallons per minute.
"We'll be able to put out boats if we get there in time," said Billy Glover, safety officer for New Hope. "It will have all the capabilities you can think of."
The boat will not patrol, but only be used for emergencies. It will remain in the water for fast access, and is about three miles from the fire station, though some volunteers live closer, McKay said. The boat should help in areas without hydrants, both by adding a water source and keeping tankers off the roads.
"That was always a possibility for us if we could get a hose to it, and we'd have an almost unlimited water supply," McKay said of the lake. "It's like a floating hydrant."
Like many areas along Lake Wylie, Gaston County sees more large homes on the water, often in difficult places to reach by truck, McKay said.
"These new homes are not typical homes," he said.
Sloan Pettus adds to firefighting resources on the lake, which was confined to Tega Cay's fire boat, Marine 6. Tega Cay's location toward the southern end of Lake Wylie and New Hope's to the north should help areas all along the water, with the boats responding to any area in need.
"It's going to be a widely used tool," McKay said. "With Tega Cay's boat and our boat, we'll have two on the river. I think both can supplement each other very nicely."
Scott Szymanski, fire chief in Tega Cay, has seen Marine 6 used several times in the year since it arrived, and not just in Tega Cay. The boat has been used more than once within the Bethel fire district, which serves Lake Wylie.
"It's great for responding on the lake," said Szymanski. "It's like having a pumper on the water."
The last time Marine 6 was used, it poured 80,000 gallons of water on a Lake Wylie home at a rate equivalent to two fire hydrants. Fire boats also help with marinas and boat fires.
New Hope received an Insurance Safety Office rating of 6 in 2003, and hopes the new boat could help the department lower that number to 5 or better. A ceremony to introduce the boat is expected, but not scheduled.