BANGOR, Maine — It took several attempts to finally break a bottle of champagne against the hull of Marine 1 at its christening Friday evening, but rather than being a bad omen, Bangor Fire Department officials look at it as a testament to the fireboat’s toughness and durability.
Bangor’s first modern, dedicated fireboat is now on the water and available for duty.
Bangor firefighters Jim Metcalf and Joe Wardwell put the 26-foot, aluminum-hulled Northwind Argus-class boat through its paces on the Penobscot River before a crowd of about 40 onlookers on deck five of the waterfront.
Two of those onlookers, who were allowed to come aboard for a quick cruise, were Bangor City Councilors Cary Weston and Pat Blanchette.
“We’ve got to invest in the future,” Weston said during the christening ceremony. “We have one of the finest firefighting departments on land and now on the water as well.”
The $184,434 boat paid for with Homeland Security grant funds features a forward-looking infrared, or FLIR, viewing system; side-scanning sonar; a combined radar/GPS system; front-mounted water cannon capable of shooting water at the rate of 1,250 gallons per minute; and five nozzles capable of pumping another 2,800 gallons per minute combined through hoses.
“This boat will pump out more water than two pumper trucks,” said Wardwell. “And even with the boat in neutral, the muzzle reaction from the water gun will push us backward at about three knots.”
Marine 1 — which will use four, three-man crews, or at least no fewer than two crew members whenever it’s used — can achieve a top speed of 40 knots — about 50 mph — with two Mercury 225-horsepower outboard motors, but it also features an inboard motor for operations requiring more control than speed, and slower speeds while rescuing people from the water. The inboard is also a key part of the suppression systems using water pumped directly out of the water the boat is floating on.
“This boat can literally turn on a dime,” said Metcalf. “We can hover or rotate in the same spot if we need to, and the inboard is ideal for rescue since you don’t have to worry about keeping them away from the outboard motor blades.”
Crew members have been intensively training to use the boat over the last month.
“The guys have really picked it up very quickly,” said Metcalf. “They pretty much spent a full four days, split halfway between classroom and actually operating the boat. Everyone has to know how to operate everything on this boat.”
And there’s a lot to operate.
“There are a lot of options crammed into a small boat, and relatively speaking, it was a great deal,” said Metcalf.
Metcalf never envisioned his current status as Marine 1 captain when he joined the Bangor Fire Department 17 years ago out of his native Thomaston.
“A few years after coming to Bangor, I started a side job as a deckhand for a day sailor in Camden,” said Metcalf, whose father owned recreational boats. “Since I’ve been so busy here with the fireboat, I haven’t been able to go down and help him out on my days off like I have been. He can barely talk because he’s so tired, but he’s excited for me.”
Wardwell, a Castine native now living in Orrington, grew up around the water and boats.
“I always thought of Bangor as a place with a small dock and nothing ever having anything like this,” Wardwell said.
Although the boat is fairly sizeable with an 18-inch draft, an 8 ½-foot width, and 7,600-pound displacement, but is surprisingly easy to transport.
“If we need to take it somewhere else, we can put it on a trailer and tow it with a pickup truck,” Metcalf said.
The new boat has not replaced the Zodiak-style inflatable raft firefighters use for various water-centered rescues and responses.
“It’s a key piece of our equipment because it’s very fast to deploy,” Wardwell said. “If someone jumps off a bridge, we’re probably still going to use this to go get them. The boat is geared more for fighting fires, rescuing boaters and searches.”