Cruise Craft Strikes Docked City Fireboat

Investigators measure a tear on the side of the fireboat caused by the crash.
Investigators measure a tear on the side of the fireboat caused by the crash. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Spirit of Washington cruise boat struck the District's main fireboat yesterday while the latter vessel was docked, gashing a 15-foot-hole in the fireboat and disabling it for the foreseeable future, fire officials said.

No passengers were aboard the 600-person cruise boat, and no one was injured in the 2 p.m. incident along Pier 4 at Sixth and Water streets SW, authorities said.

The accident occurred as the four-person crew of the Spirit of Washington performed a routine maneuver to reposition the ship alongside the pier, said Sal Naso, vice president and general manager of Spirit Cruises.

"They were just turning it around," Naso said. "It's done a thousand times a year. . . . We're obviously going to take care of the fire department."

Naso said damage to the cruise boat was minimal. The company substituted another boat, the Spirit of Mount Vernon, for its scheduled dinner cruise.

Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said the damage to the 70-foot John Glenn was "considerable." The gash was on the starboard side, above the water line, and will have to be fixed before the fireboat can be returned to service, he said.

He described the vessel as "a very necessary part of the department."

"It's a big deal to lose it," Etter said.

The John Glenn can pump 7,000 gallons of water a minute and is the city's only vessel with icebreaking capabilities, Etter said. It was instrumental in battling a blaze three years ago on the water in which three yachts caught fire, Etter said.

Naso and Etter said it was too early to determine what had gone wrong, although both said there had been reports of strong gusts of wind on the river. The U.S. Coast Guard was investigating the accident.

The District has had the John Glenn since 1978. It was returned to the department five years ago after a two-year refurbishing effort. All three of the boat's engines were replaced, and new electronics were added, Etter said.

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