GARDINER — While some in this riverfront city remain skeptical about the need for a new rescue boat, city officials have given the go-ahead to spend the money they approved in June on a new one.

“My No. 1 priority is to provide the equipment needed to do the job safely,” Fire Chief Al Nelson said.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize purchase of the boat.

At the council meeting, Nelson showed a video illustrating the difficulties posed in using a pleasure craft for water rescues. He compared rescues both with and without a backboard in Gardiner’s boat, which is a pleasure craft, with use of the Augusta Fire Department’s boat, which is built for rescues.

Gardiner has 6 miles of riverfront property along the Kennebec River, which includes Waterfront Park; the city is also home to portions of the Cobboseecontee Stream and Pleasant Pond.

On average, the Gardiner Fire Department responds to five water incidents a year. The most recent, Nelson said, was a flotilla at the end of July that started in Hallowell. Some flotilla members who were without life jackets were struggling to stay afloat, he said. The Gardiner Fire Department and some boaters from the Foggy-Bottom marina in Farmingdale plucked the flotilla members in distress from the water.

The advantages of a boat designed specifically for rescues are that it offers stable performance; has low sides to allow rescued people to be lifted easily, with or without a backboard; and has a platform or ladder so that rescuers who have gone into the water can get back into the boat easily, he said. A boat designed for rescue also has room to administer treatment to people pulled from the water, he added.

In June, the council approved the city’s spending plan, which included funding for the boat. But it did so with the caveat that before any action is taken to buy the boat, a public discussion must be held. Nelson put his presentation together to highlight the need for the boat. If the boat’s cost were to be divided among Gardiner’s taxpayers over life of the boat, the cost would be 95 cents a year to each taxpayer.

“That’s less than a small cup of coffee at Ainsley’s,” he said. That calculation doesn’t apply anyway, because the city has the cash to pay for it.

George Trask, a Gardiner resident and former city councilor, said he’s concerned about the escalation of costs to the city that the proposed boat would require, including the costs to staff it and store it on city property in south Gardiner.

“It’s $40,000 and you guys will do it anyway,” Trask said, “But looking down the road, all of a sudden, this boat is going up in price.”

He cited the need for additional firefighters and the money being spent on repairs at the South Gardiner fire station, and he said perhaps the cost could be picked up by the Gardiner Ambulance Service.

“Who’s going to run the boat? Why isn’t the ambulance department paying for it?” he said.

Nelson said he’s looked for grants and hasn’t found any that would help pay for a boat, but the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency agreed to provide radios, including a marine radio, for the boat.

Nelson said he would like additional staffing for his department. He brought a grant application to the council earlier this year to add to the staff, but at that time, elected officials declined to pursue it.

In the absence of additional staff, Nelson said, the current staff will be used for the boat.

The boat will be stored where the current boat is at the former Fire Department building in South Gardiner, Nelson said. And although city officials have approved funding to repair the building, it’s used for more than just storing the boat.

Nelson said ambulance and rescue services are two different functions in the fire service, and separating the rescue boat from the rescue function doesn’t make sense. On occasion, he said, Delta Ambulance might send an ambulance if it was required in Gardiner, he said, but the an ambulance staff would not take the boat out for a water rescue.

On Thursday, Nelson said the next step is developing specifications for the rescue boat and putting it out to bid.

“Being late in the year already, we’ll spend the time making sure what we need and we’ll put it into service next spring,” he said.

By then, he’ll know whether the current boat, which is valued at $5,700, will be used as a trade-in or will be sold.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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