Check out this boat. It's safer for Elgin's water rescue team.
Water rescues near dams can be particularly harrowing as the churning waters known as "the boil" can pull in people and rescuers.
The Elgin Fire Department is painfully familiar with that, after two of its own died in 1974 during a rescue near the city's dam in the Fox River.
The department now has a new tool expected to enhance safety, a Waterwog 3 rescue boat made by Creature Craft that works well near low-head dams, fire officials said. Its most salient feature is an overhead roll cage.
"If the boats tip over because of the current, it still has the capacity to keep everybody safe and we can still perform a rescue," Lt. Michael Przybylski said.
The nearly 14-foot boat has backup safety in the form of a rope about 300 feet long that can be pulled from shore, he said. The total cost was $33,800 including training, but the city spent $14,910 after a grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.
The new boat replaced a 20-year-old dam entry watercraft, one of three Elgin Fire Department boats.
"It is vital to have the most updated, modern equipment to give firefighters and civilians the best possible chance for a positive outcome in a water rescue," Fire Chief Robb Cagann said.
The eight-member water rescue team on Tuesday trained with the new boat for the first time. Creature Craft provided additional boats for the training that will continue through Thursday, when the boat goes into service.
Creature Craft owner and designer Darren Vancil, who came to Elgin for the three-day training, said about 25 fire agencies in the United States and abroad have purchased rescue boats from his company, based in Colorado. The company primarily builds white water rafting boats and started gaining traction among water rescuers about four years ago, he said.
The North Aurora Fire Protection District will observe a training in Elgin, which also got calls of interest from St. Charles and Algonquin, Przybylski said. The closest emergency responder with this particular boat is in Wilmington, Illinois, he said.
Elgin's water rescue and recovery team has responded to 69 calls in the last decade, mostly in Elgin but also in Algonquin, Carpentersville, St. Charles, Bartlett, Gilberts, South Elgin and even Wilmington, fire department data shows. The team also receives requests for trainings.
Water rescues are most dangerous when water levels are high, typically in the spring, Przybylski said.
He credited Lt. Josh Smith with crafting the grant application for the new boat. "This is something we've been working on for a couple of years now, and finally it's come to fruition."