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Bemidji Fire Department: Testing the 'tuna' boat

Bemidji firefighters test out a Fortuna boat for use in ice rescues. The George W. Neilson Foundation provided the funding for the $4,000 boat and accompanying four life jackets. Submitted Photo

The Bemidji Fire Department this week tested its newest addition: a Fortuna boat.

The boat, affectionately referred to as a "tuna boat" or "banana boat," will aid firefighters in responding to rescue calls on ice or water, said Fire Chief Dick Sathers.

"We'll use it for ice rescues primarily," Sathers said.

Bemidji firefighters had previously trained with the boat in other training scenarios.

"We felt we needed one here for our city," Sathers said.

The Fortuna boat will join the hovercraft, which the Neilson Foundation financed about 10 years ago.

"It will enhance our response," Sathers said.

The George W. Neilson Foundation provided the funding for the $4,000 boat and accompanying four life jackets.

The inflatable Fortuna boat provides up to 2,000 pounds of floatation, according to a Web site.

It is non-motorized, but a small motor could be mounted onto it, said career firefighter Mitch Howe.

It can also be towed behind a four-wheeler or snowmobile, if someone needed rescuing in the woods, Sathers said.

Firefighters took the boat out on the ice Tuesday as they decided to test the new boat.

The seven career firefighters will first be trained on how to use the Fortuna, and paid on-call firefighters will be trained later, Sathers said.

Generally speaking, Sathers explained, general alarms are not made for rescue scenarios as career firefighters working respond immediately to those situations.

Following the training session, Sathers said the Fire Department will make at least one change to the boat. The seat area was slick when it got wet, so carpet will be ordered to provide some traction.

He noted that the Fire Department responds to "several" calls a year for ice rescues.

"If people aren't careful out there, they could easily go through," he said of the current ice depth. "When is the ice safest? Never."