RIDE OF THE WEEK: The Ride: Truckee Fire Protection District’s Air Boat One | SierraSun.com

RIDE OF THE WEEK: The Ride: Truckee Fire Protection District’s Air Boat One

Seth Lightcap/Sierra Sun

What is the primary use of the Airboat?

The Airboat was acquired by the district in 1989 as an ice and water rescue boat. Our dive team also uses it as a support vessel.

What makes the Airboat ideal for ice rescue?

Because there is no engine assembly hanging below the boat it can be propelled across the ice no matter how thick or thin. If the ice is thick the airboat skims on the surface, if it’s breakable the boat will ride in and out of the water. Once on location the boat is specially equipped to facilitate rescuing possibly hypothermic victims from the ice or open water.

How do you pull a victim from the ice into the boat?

If the subject can grab on to something we’ll throw them a rescue line and then once next to the boat we’ll slide them up onto the deck using a metal ramp. Many times the extreme cold takes away a subject’s ability to grasp anything, however. In those cases a firefighter will put on a drysuit and jump in the water to help secure and rescue the subject.

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How do you control the Airboat’s speed and direction? Does it maneuver well on ice?

The Airboat drives like a big sled. A gas pedal controls the prop speed and the turning rudders are controlled with a joystick next to the driver’s seat. It maneuvers pretty well but you have to remember that it has no brakes and can’t go in reverse. You have to give it enough room to slow down when approaching and always make sure you have open space to turn around.

How fast can it go?

It has a General Motors 454 big block engine with about 300 horsepower so it can hit about 60 mph.

How long does it take to stop?

Stopping distance depends on the ice surface. If it’s slushy or rough it will stop faster than if the lake surface is glare ice. The friction of the boat bottom against the ice, snow or water slows it down.

How often is it used?

It gets deployed a couple times each year. The last time was the recent search and rescue operation at the Boca reservoir.

How many personnel are trained to operate the Airboat?

Someone on every shift is trained on the Airboat. We do a lot of cross-training with the dive team as well so there are 20-plus firefighters who are capable of driving it.

” This week’s Ride of the Week interview and photo shoot was conducted by the Sun’s Seth Lightcap. Send future interview suggestions to slightcap@sierrasun.com.