Lake Tahoe’s ‘floating fire hydrant’

The southeast shore of Lake Tahoe has sprouted into a gold coast, with multimillion dollar homes on secluded lanes just steps to the lake.

There is plenty of water around – but not on those roads. With almost 130 homes without water mains for fire protection, the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District based in Zephyr Cove, Nev., turned to Lake Assault Boats for a solution.

The 32’ fireboat Marine 24 delivered this spring is designed to deal with both structural and wild land fires along the lakeshore, as “a floating fire hydrant” that can get in close where public water mains are lacking and tanker trucks can’t maneuver, said Eric Guevin, the TDFPD fire marshal.

“We have a lot of these larger mansions on the side of the lake that get their domestic water from the lake,” said Guevin.

But those household systems are unable to supply anything like the water volume and pressure needed for fighting fires. Some properties have on-site fire pumps, but fire officials find the maintenance and reliability of those private systems can be questionable.

Then in August 2016, the 144’ paddlewheeler Tahoe Queen caught fire at its Zephyr Cove dock. It took firefighters an hour to extinguish the flames, and damage was so extensive the tourist cruiser was ultimately scrapped.

“All those things came together at the same time,” Guevin said.

In studying the fire district needs, TDFPD officials came to view a fireboat as the mobile solution for many risks. Part of the inspiration came from looking at the San Francisco Fire Department’s Fireboat 3, also known as the St. Francis.

That 80’x25’x14’ vessel – San Francisco’s first new fireboat in 61 years, and a WorkBoat Significant Boat of 2016 – was conceived primarily not for fighting fires on the bay, but for supplying the San Francisco city water system in an emergency.

If a major earthquake disrupts the water mains, Fireboat 3 would pump up to 18,000 gpm into the system to supply firefighters on land. That got the Tahoe firefighters’ attention.

“That was in the back of my mind,” said Guevin.

TDFPD officials had learned about Lake Assault Boats, a part of Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wis., from other firefighters who had a boat built by them. An independent, third party fire engineer reviewed strategies to address the area’s fire protection requirements, and supported the TDFPD board of trustees’ decision to approve the purchase.

The company custom-built Marine 24 to match those requirements. The V hull is propelled by twin 350-hp Mercury Verado four-stroke outboards, and equipped with the Mercury Skyhook digital anchor and joystick piloting systems. Firefighting power comes from a 1,500-gpm Darley pump, powered by a dedicated V-8 engine. The pump supplies a pilothouse rooftop remote-controlled Task Force Tips Monsoon monitor, two deck monitors, and a large diameter hose discharge mounted in front of the pilothouse to supply land-based apparatus.

That gives Marine 24 the capability to operate as a “floating fire hydrant,” said Chad DuMars, Lake Assault’s vice president for operations. The landing craft-style hull incorporates a 74″ hydraulically operated bow door with integrated ladder, a portside dive door, and hose storage compartments.

“We can get right on the beach and still pump at very low draft,” said Guevin.

An 11’x9’6” pilothouse has 80” of headroom, and center position fore and aft doors. Arrayed around the integrated helm station are dual 12″ touchscreens mounted on the dash, Garmin radar and sonar with GPS, chart plotting, structure/side scan, and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) system.

“The new boat will give our firefighters access to a much larger water supply, and one that is pumped from the lake in a safe and ecological manner,” TDFPD chief Scott Baker said in announcing the boat’s arrival. “This new capability will directly save lives, property, and our precious Lake Tahoe environment from catastrophic fire dam

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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