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IFD gets Hovercraft

WTHR TV 13, Indianapolis, IN
by Sandra Chapman

Firefighters in Marion and Hamilton Counties will soon have a new and faster way to make water rescues and respond to water terrorism. It's designed to glide on top of water, ice and even land like a cushion of air. The Hovercraft is the county's latest purchase with Homeland Security funds.

It's touted as a recreational vehicle, a rescue watercraft and now a tool in the county's response to terrorism. It's called a Hovercraft.

"They could think it's something that's frivolous or extraneous or somebody's toy," said John Ball, Marion County Emergency Management.

Ball says this is no toy, but a potential lifesaver in ice or high water.

"Conditions where we're really putting rescuers in harm's way at some very extremely dangerous circumstances. The Hovercraft gives us a tool to increase that safety and to get to citizens and rescue them," said Ball.

In a rescue attempt in September 2003, divers were repeatedly forced back in their attempts to recover the body of a 78-year-old woman from the flood waters of Fall Creek.

Another incident in the White River in June 2001 also highlights the need for a Hovercraft. "That rescue while very heroic was extremely dangerous to lower a helicopter over that," said Ball.

Ball says the Hovercraft could have been effective in both cases.

"We discovered we have a real gap in some of the circumstances that divers encounter in Indianapolis," he said.

A Homeland Security urban grant covering both Marion and Hamilton Counties will cover the $57,000 watercraft and the cost of training for a pilot and five other rescuers.

Officials at the Indianapolis Fire Department would not speak publicly about the Hovercraft, only to say that it would be housed at a city fire station and that it would be dispatched to other agencies and jurisdictions as needed.

"We're all mindful that it's a very tight budget. We live here and pay taxes as well. I can tell you this is a capability that we would not have but for these grant dollars," Ball said.

The county says that tool will expand their reach on a reservoir, river or a flooded neighborhood. Emergency Management officials say the county's Hovercraft has been built. A team will travel to Terre Haute next week to inspect the watercraft and get training. An unveiling to the city is planned in early October.

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