Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department’s two fireboats were recently called on for an unusual job — help save the sea life in Biscayne Bay.

Fireboats 21 and 73 spent four hours and covered about two square miles aerating a portion of the bay with thousands of dead and dying creatures ranging from pufferfish and eels to lobster and grunts.

The emergency aeration worked — for the time being. Oxygen readings increased by 30% directly around the boats and 15% about 100 yards away, according to Miami Waterkeeper, the environmental organization coordinating the response to the fish kill.  

“It does seem like it helped,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the group that’s concerned about water quality. “I hope we never have to do it again. What we need is to improve the quality overall.”

The size and severity of the fish kill reported last month appear unparalleled for the bay, Waterkeeper said on its site. The low oxygen levels were due to pollution from sources such as sewage leaks, septic tanks, stormwater runoff, and fertilizer overuse.

So using the boats to give marine life more oxygen made sense.

“That’s a unique scenario,” said Chad DuMars, vice president of operations, Lake Assault Boats, Superior, Wisc., which has built a number of fireboats. “That’s kind of out-of-the-box thinking, and I like it.”

Andy Alvarez, chief fire officer of the department’s marine services bureau, wasn’t aware of the boats being used for such a mission before.

“At the end of the day, fireboats are there to protect life and property and the environment,” he said.

The 55'x16' Fireboat 73 and the 36'x15' Fireboat 21 were built by MetalCraft Marine, Kingston, Ontario, in 2005 and 2006. Both have Hale fire pumps which can pump 4,000 gpm on 21 and 8,500 gpm on 73, Alvarez said.

At the end of the month, the department is due to take delivery of Defiant 50 X fireboats from Metal Shark. The 50'x15' vessels with welded aluminum monohull design are being built at Metal Shark’s Jeanerette, La., facility. Projected top speed will be in excess of 45 knots. They’ve gotten a grant for a third 50' boat which is expected in a year, Alvarez said.

The fireboat program also will soon have three Rapid Rescue Vessels (RRV) to serve the coastline and three airboats for the Florida Everglades.





Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.