Fire Chief Drew Parker

Elba Fire Chief Drew Parker discusses the new air boat for his department with Elba City Council members during Monday meeting. Parker said once the new air boat arrives, he would like to take each council member down the river to show them dire situation the department faces with river rescue due to the current state of the Pea River.

The Elba Fire Department moved one step closer to acquiring an air boat Monday evening, Oct. 28, when the Elba City Council approved a bid for purchase of the boat. Elba Fire Chief Drew Parker said the acquisition of the air boat for river rescue had been included in the department’s budget as a capital expenditure expense for this year. He said with the river in its current condition, especially with the drought conditions this year, the department has had no way to get to those stranded on the river. “We are going to end up getting a fireman injured if we don’t do something,” Parker said. He said the department rescues about 25 people per year on average from the Pea River. He said the main rescue area is between Week’s Bridge in the county and the boat ramp in Elba. Parker said people floating and kayaking on the river like to enter at Week’s Bridge and float/kayak to the boat ramp in Elba; however, he said many don’t understand the time it takes to float the river, especially with water levels down as they have been, and are getting stranded after dark. Without the proper equipment for a rescue, he said firemen have been hiking through the woods at night trying to locate the stranded individuals and helping them off the river that way. Parker said that is certainly not time-efficient [especially if a person is injured] nor is it safe for the firemen. Earlier this year, the department had a company come and do a demo of an air boat on the river just to see if this would be an effective way to rescue. Parker said an 8-hour float area took 30 minutes for the air boat to cover, and the condition of the river did not stop the air boat from completing its task. “This is the only answer to the problem as I see it,” Parker said. “This year with the drought this is the worst ever I have seen the river. I think this air boat is very much needed.” Parker said he knows for certain there is not an air boat in service for first responders within at least a 10-county radius at this time. He said his proposal was for the City of Elba to cover 1/3 of the cost from the department’s capital expenditure account at $16,500 and that would be combined with $16,500 given by Coffee County. He said the Elba Fire Department would cover the remainder of the cost of the air boat with tax monies that come directly to the department. Parker said two bids were received on the new air boat, and the low bid was from Circle H Airboats, which is a company located in the Ino Community of Coffee County. With the specs in order for the boat, Parker recommended the city council approve the bid from Circle H airboats in the amount of $59,869. He said there is an approximate 150-day delivery day on this boat, therefore, it would be early spring before it arrives in Elba for use. Parker added that the department is looking into the certification requirements for operation of the new air boat and would be sending 3-5 firemen for training. A motion was made by Mayor Mickey Murdock to approve the bid for the airboat with the city supplying $16,500 from the fire department’s capital expenditure account for purchase. Councilman Gappa Wise seconded the motion, and it passed with no opposition. Parker thanked the council for its continued support of the Elba Fire Department.

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