Elba Fire Department debuts $65,000 airboat as river-based emergency calls increase

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ELBA, Ala. (WDHN) — The Elba Fire Department is now home to a $65,000 airboat.

In December 2015, flood waters breached the dam and sent water rushing through the Pea River. Now, five years later, the river struggles to stay at 2.5 feet. This has led to people getting stuck and sometimes stranded while trying to enjoy a day on the water.

But now, water-based rescue missions have gotten easier for the Elba Fire Department.

“The only way we had to navigate the river was the same way that the folks using it for the recreation would be able to navigate it,” said Elba Fire Department Chief Drew Parker. “That’s either by jon boats, kayaks, or even inner tubes. Now that we have an airboat, we can navigate it somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish.”

The boat features a 600 horse-powered fuel-injected engine that powers four propeller blades, a high-quality LED light system, headphones that allow for communication, and a high-quality GPS system.

“As far as a fire department that has one, we don’t know of another one within the 10 county radius,” Parker said.

The boat is used for more than just looks. With shallow water and more activity on the river, first responders have seen a higher number of people getting stranded. Hence the need for the airboat.

“As the amount of folks that come down the river increases, obviously our amount of calls for service are going to increase,” Parker explained.

However, the fire department encouraged people to keep enjoying the water.

“We don’t want people to be alarmed,” Parker told WDHN. “We want them to come down and enjoy our recreation that we have here. Just rest assured knowing if they call us for service as far as needing us for a medical emergency or if they do become stranded for some reason, that we can respond and get to them.”

The fire department plans to list the boat on the Alabama Mutual Aid System. That way other agencies can request to use it.

In addition, the boat was purchased with help from the Elba City Council and the Coffee County Commission.

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