Berlin may be a landlocked town, but the town needs a boat — a new inflatable rescue boat for the fire and police dive team.
The current 10-foot-long boat is 12 years old and needs to be replaced, Fire Administrator James C. Simons told the town council before it approved the $13,692 purchase.
The new boat will be nearly 13 feet long and has a 15 horsepower motor. The current boat has a 4 horsepower engine.
On Friday, dive team commander Lt. Drew Gallupe said the 10-foot inflatable is small and can only seat a driver and one dive team member, who is the line tender for divers on the scene.
“This is not optimal, as a second team member should be on the boat to handle communications with the diver as well as other paperwork and equipment issues,” Gallupe said via email. “The current boat also has a propeller motor that is very old and undependable. The propeller is not diver friendly and can cause serious injury to a diver who gets near the motor. The new boat will have a larger motor with a shrouded propeller, which is safer for divers.”
The team has six divers — four from the Berlin Police Department and two from neighboring New Britain. It is a regional police resource.
Berlin and New Britain have a lot of bodies of water. Hence the dive team — with police trained to dive and firefighters responsible for storing, maintaining and delivering the equipment.
“We train in bodies of water in both Berlin and New Britain, including Paper Goods Pond, Silver Lake, Martha Hart, Stanley, Batterson and others,” Gallupe said. “We do approximately eight training dives a year. The team has been called for emergencies in other surrounding towns as well.”
The team trains yearly with the Berlin and East Berlin Fire Departments. Berlin’s fire departments take care of the boat, bring it to any place the team is deployed and drive the boat when it is needed.
The dive team has been dispatched to help people who have fallen through ice in winter, assist swimmers in trouble, recover drowning victims and assist in police investigations, including stolen vehicle cases.
“We responded in April to a submerged vehicle found in Batterson Pond in New Britain. We have recovered numerous stolen submerged vehicles in Berlin and New Britain in the past,” Gallupe said Friday.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Simons talked about the challenges the dive team boat faces.
“We only have one water body with a ramp — Silver Lake. But there’s a lot of old brickyard ponds along Route 9, other ponds and several reservoirs,” Simons said, explaining the need for a safe, portable boat.
The current boat, kept in the Berlin fire station on the Berlin Turnpike, is so small that divers can’t fit easily in it, especially when they are bringing someone to shore.
There are times first responders must get out on the water — sometimes to rescue swimmers in trouble or people hurt when they illegally dive from cliffs into some of the reservoirs in town.
“There’s lots of rocks around most places. The team has to carry the boat into remote areas and put it in the water,” Simons said. “This new boat is about 100 pounds. Four guys can carry it in.”
The older boat will be deflated and stored in the fire station to be used if needed.