Nothing gets everyone’s attention — especially in the marine industry — quicker than the word FIRE. Wherever boats are found, onboard or off, you’ll find tools to fight fires. And when you’re fighting a fire on or from the water, the most important of these tools is the fireboat. It’s also the most expensive.

Capt. Claude Klein was the master captain of the Port of New Orleans’ fireboat from 1994 until he retired in 2019. In an interview last year, he said the most important thing to remember when fighting a fire is to protect the fireboat.

“The boat comes first because without the boat, the crew can lose their lives and you have no boat to fight the fire,” he said. “If your position is too dangerous, pull out and find another way in.”

These types of vessels are precious commodities to their owners. They protect property and, at times, save lives.  


Last summer, Jeanerette, La.-based shipbuilder Metal Shark introduced the 38 Defiant NXT, a welded-aluminum monohull pilothouse model based on the company’s 38 Defiant platform. The first new vessel, the 43'x12" Fire Boat 2, was delivered to Orange Beach Fire Rescue in Orange Beach, Ala.

The new 38 Defiant NXT utilizes the same hull form but with an entirely new topsides arrangement designed by Metal Shark’s in-house engineering team.

Wing urethane-sheathed, closed-cell foam collar provides impact resistance during alongside maneuvers, a robust bow-pusher knee provides added utility, and a large dive platform and aft cockpit scuba tank racks have been added for divers.

Orange Beach Fire Rescue’s new 38 Defiant NXT is powered by twin 550-hp Cummins QSB 6.7 inboard diesels mated to HamiltonJet HTX30 waterjets through Twin Disc MG-5065 SC transmissions. The configuration enables the fully equipped fireboat to cruise at 30 knots and reach top speeds in excess of 40 knots. The 38 Defiant NXT is available with a range of propulsion types and can reach top speeds of 50+ knots when powered by triple outboards.

For firefighting, the Orange Beach fireboat delivers a flow rate of 3,000 gpm, with twin 1,500 gpm Darley fire pumps driven via PTO from the main engines. Each pump draws from its own dedicated in-hull sea chest, feeding a central manifold with crossover capability, which in turn supplies the entire system. From the fire control station at the port helm, flow is directed as desired via electronically actuated valves. The vessel is equipped with a remote-operated Elkhart Scorpion EXM electric rooftop monitor, two Elkhart Copperhead manually operated monitors aft, dual handline outlets, and a 5" Storz connection. 

“Redesigning one of our best-selling models at the peak of its popularity was not a task we approached lightly, but through our efforts we made significant improvements to an already outstanding platform,” Metal Shark CEO Chris Allard said at the time the boat was delivered. “Orange Beach Fire Rescue’s new 38 Defiant NXT fireboat and the multiple other fireboats now in production are a direct result of our goal to consistently offer the industry’s most advanced designs through ongoing product evolution.”

Metal Shark’s new 38 NXT has proven to be very popular. The 38 Defiant NXT fireboat for South King County (Wash.) was recently delivered, while the yard is currently putting the finishing touches on the NXT fireboat for Chicago Fire. There are also two new NXTs under construction for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, and one each for St. John’s (S.C.) Fire District, and Virginia Beach (Va.) Fire Department.

In addition to all the 38s, Metal Shark is building a 32 Defiant fireboat for Stafford County (Va.) Fire & Rescue, and a 25 Courageous for East Dover Fire Department, Toms River, N.J.

Last year, in addition to two 50 Defiant fireboats as well as a 36 Fearless center console delivered to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, and the 70 Defiant delivered to Canaveral Fire Rescue, Metal Shark also delivered a 32 Courageous fireboat to Boca Raton Fire Rescue and a 32 Defiant NXT fireboat to Horry County (S.C.) Fire Rescue.


North River Boats, Roseburg, Ore., has been building fireboats and fire/rescue boats for decades. The company got into building fireboats and fire/rescue boats to offer prospective buyers a fresh approach to meet the exact needs from department to department.

North River’s larger fireboats are based upon the boatbuilder’s Sounder hull design with lengths up to 40' and beam widths of 8.5', 9.5', 10.5' and 11.5'. The hulls operate in offshore and inshore waters throughout the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to California. But North River has also delivered fireboats to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast.   

“At North River, customization is the key,” said Russell Sparkman, North River’s director of marketing. “The Sounder hull is the proven hull form, and the upper deck and structures are highly tailored to the meet the needs or mission of the individual fire and rescue departments.

“With each boat we build, with each unique set of problems that we solve for a client, we create a new set of options and features to suggest, offer or recommend to future fire and rescue boat buyers.”

After listening to customer feedback and inquiries over the past several years at conferences, trade shows, calls into the office, etc., North River felt there was a need in the marketplace for a boat that is smaller and lighter weight, than the larger boats based on the Sounder hull.

“Our goal for the Freedom design was to develop a platform that would fit the budget and needs of smaller fire departments, sheriff’s departments, which are often one-part law enforcement, one-part fire department, port authorities and smaller municipalities,” said Sparkman. “This meant designing a platform that can be configured with outboard motors, inboard jet for shallow water operation, or sterndrive if desired.” 

Standard features of the Freedom design include a center console with windshield, drop-down bow door and fully self-bailing deck. The boats come in lengths from 21' to 26' with an 8'6" beam, that are DOT legally trailerable in all 50 states and towable by a ½-ton or ¾-ton pickup. “We’ve even seen instances where the Freedom has been towed by ambulances,” said Sparkman.

The Freedom has an option for a 500-gpm. Darley fire pump that has a through-hull intake. The pump can be easily removed, via a quick-couple fitting if extra deck space is needed forward of the console.

“In recent years, we have delivered about 24 fire and rescue boats, between the Sounder-based boats and the Freedom,” said Sparkman.


MetalCraft Marine recently delivered two high-profile fire rescue boats to the east and west coasts of Florida, weeks apart. The exclusive communities of Ocean Reef in Largo Key and Boca Grande on Boca Grande Island both selected MetalCraft Fire Interceptors to provide protection and security to their citizens.     

The Fire Interceptor is a fire-rescue version of the shipyard’s Interceptor that is used by several friendly foreign militaries around the world as well as fleets operating in USCG and U.S. Navy programs and numerous select police forces.

“The selection made a lot of sense to decision makers as both communities have a very protected side of the island and a very rough exposed-to-open-ocean side and their men don’t get to choose when someone is in distress and needs their help,” said MetalCraft’s contracts manager Bob Clark. “Let’s face it fire-rescue crews don’t get that many calls on really nice days for a cruise.”

The boats are slightly different in length with Ocean Reef’s at 37'8" LOA and Boca Grande at 35'1.5" and come with MetalCraft’s standard 10-year hull warranty. Both are fitted with ABYC required anti-corrosion meters with data logging so if the boat has been in an area with high stray current it is recorded for better observation. Ocean Reef has a Phaser generator for a climate-controlled cabin space.

The Boca boat has twin Mercury 350 Verados and will do 60 mph. Ocean Reef went with Merc 300-hp Sea Pro engines and the boat achieves a respectable 46 mph. Mercury offers a three-year, non-declining warranty for its engines warrants the engines for government and commercial use, including military. Clark pointed out that the Mercury engines are made in Wisconsin, “not China.”

As high-performance military vessel designs, the boats have a very low beam-to-length (BLR) ratio, which serves to dramatically reduce pitching and vertical slamming impact (vertical acceleration). The low BLR also means that in canals and harbors they produce a very low wake signature.

The Interceptor hull is designed to have its main hull chines sitting at or slightly above the waterline displacing less water as it moves along, meaning it takes less horsepower to push it along at hull speed or slightly above to about 30% more than hull speed.

Another big feature for military action is reduced horsepower at cruise planing speed, Clark said. “The optimal planing speed for least use of fuel for most boats is somewhere in the 22-28 knot range. Militaries commonly look for 200 nautical miles or greater range on a vessel. And they want to get there as fast as possible,” he said. “That takes a lot of fuel and that adds weight, lots of it. At some point this can become self-defeating. The Fire Interceptor with all the added weight of the fire pump, piping and lots of associated gear, crew and the fuel, needs as little hull resistance as a designer can provide.”

Clark said the Fire Interceptor’s low resistance hull surprises everyone when it can cruise for hours on end at 28 knots optimum fuel burn, meaning it can beat a slower boat by as much as six nautical miles per hour and burn the same amount of fuel.

“There are theoretical calculations for this and then there are hard test data numbers,” Clark said. “In a recent test boat that had a specific range requirement we were able to reduce the tank size by 9%. Now this needs to be tested again because now you have the reduced weight of the tank itself. Can we save 10%?”

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.