Before millions of people flock to Lake Lanier this summer, Hall County Fire Services Deputy Fire Chief Chad Black knew the county’s marine rescue team needed reinforcement.
“This will be our 10th year in operation, and it’s one of the busiest marine rescue teams in the nation based on call volume and, unfortunately, victim removal,” he said.
With two boats constantly in and out of the repair shop, the county’s fire crews requested $106,000 for the purchase of a new 23-foot aluminum rescue boat to arrive before Memorial Day.
A private ambulance company purchased the previous primary boat, a Yamaha skiboat converted to perform rescues, for the rescue team in 2005. The backup was a government-surplus inflatable Zodiac watercraft.
“The cost of keeping those up in maintenance because of the wear and tear and age on them has just become too monumental,” Black said.
For perspective, Black estimates that the expenses in upkeep for the boats is three times more than the actual value of the boats. Hall County commissioner Scott Gibbs said maintenance costs reached between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.
The boats were only in service 52 percent of the time, he said.
The new boat, which is expected to arrive no later than the second week of May, should last around 25 years or more, providing greater features for rescue and emergency medical services.
One such installation is a 64-inch bow-door clearance, which would allow the rescue team to sidle up to the beach.
“The front of the boat will let down to where you can walk people on it, move patients off of it,” Black said. “Also, in the water, it can be dropped down and you can bring patients up to the boat that way.”
Additionally, the new boat will have an outboard engine, which Black said is easier and cheaper to repair than the converted skiboat’s inboard engines.
“The maintenance issues that we’ve had for the past year, really two years, we really plan on seeing those diminish, if not, other than just normal upkeep, completely go away,” he said.
Part of the reason for the extreme wear and tear is the high use when patrolling Lake Lanier, with responders fielding an average of 75 to 100 calls per year.
“Our guys are averaging putting anywhere around 400-plus hours on the boat every year, whereas an average boat, from talking with people in the industry, 30 to 35 hours is about the average put on a boat per season,” Black said.
During the summer months, Georgia Department of Natural Resources usually has six to eight boats patrolling the lake in various areas, said DNR public affairs officer Mark McKinnon.
From sun-up into the night, DNR officers log long hours on the boats when the lake sees its peak number of visitors.
“It’s really hard on the boats, just because of the amount of hours that they are on the lake, so they do require constant maintenance,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon said the working relationship between DNR, Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Hall County Fire Services allows for plenty of equipment sharing.
“We have some good sonar equipment when we’re doing search and rescue, and we work very well together on that lake,” he said
The boat is being made by William E. Munson Co., which already had a boat close to being for sale.
The leaking backup boat will go to Charleston, S.C. for repairs, marking the third year in a row for such maintenance, Black said. The backup can go out for a call, but it is not the ideal vessel for the marine rescue team, Black said.
The budget item was moved to the consent agenda and approved at Thursday’s voting meeting by the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
According to the bid summary, funds will come from SPLOST VI.
“I don’t want to spend money any more than anybody else, but stuff wears out,” Gibbs said.
“We are a lake community, so we’re going toward something that is designed for rescue.”