Fire Safety Investment has Taxpayers Spending $5 Million on Marine One | News

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Fire Safety Investment has Taxpayers Spending $5 Million on Marine One
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department has a one-of-a-kind firefighting boat that cost taxpayers more than $5 million at a time when city hall has doubled garbage fees and increased property taxes.

Marine One is a new addition to JFRD's arsenal. It is state-of-the-art and capable of pushing 16,000 gallons of water a minute from five different water cannons the length of a football field.

The 70-foot vessel is equipped with side sonar to identify anything below water and forward looking infrared for night operations. It also is designed to handle biological threats. 

A Homeland Security grant that topped $4 million paid most of the bill. But the city also set aside $1.4 million, saved over the past three years, to match the federal dollars.

In its grant proposal, the fire department cited the presence of a NFL stadium near the river as one reason it needed the boat, along with growing port and cruise ship operations.

The boat is definitely an asset to the community, said JFRD Chief Larry Peterson, with its miles of water plus countless waterfront homes and businesses.

"Within the next year, any port that receives ships of a certain size and caliber and cargo, you are going to have to provide the emergency services," said Peterson.

It fills a big need on the First Coast, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Andy Blomme, since the Coast Guard is not the firefighting business.

But Victor Wilhelm Jr. who runs Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County said the fireboat purchase is not as much of an issue as the mindset that federal dollars are somehow different  - and free.

"They think the money comes from a money tree -- magically (from) somewhere. But that's hard-earned money that people have to earn and pay to the government," said Wilhelm, who noted that this year homeowner property taxes went up.

Jacksonville Port Authority welcomes the city acquiring a boat that is unique in Florida. Tampa, another port city, has a similar vessel but it is less high tech.

"(It's) not a luxury at all," said Nancy Rubin, port spokesperson.

The expense of the boat, however, is raising some eyebrows among firefighters who recently voted to take a 2 percent pay cut to avoid layoffs.

"I don't now what the thought process...it was probably needed, but again it doesn't make it any easier," fire union president Randy Wise.

"Man, they want us to take a 2 percent pay reduction and they are still spending money, like, hand over fist."

Marine One as part of the grant will respond to national emergencies when called upon anywhere in the Southeast.

The boat will not require any additional expense for personnel and training, said JFRD. Twelve firefighters are currently assigned to the marine division. 

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