CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Chasing down breakaway barges on the Cumberland River may not be the first duty that comes to mind when considering Clarksville Fire Rescue, but the department has answered that call twice during the past month.
First, on New Year’s Eve, the department’s Marine Response Division took to the river when a construction barge and crane involved in the McClure Bridge project broke free. Then, on Jan. 20, the team helped corral a barge that broke loose while awaiting off-loading of ore at the zinc plant. Both incidents were resolved without injuries or damage to property.
“We have a lot of commercial activity and shipping on the river, in addition to some large yacht traffic, so we do get involved from time to time with keeping the river safe,” said Captain Mark Chandler, fire boat operations commander. “We have impeccable cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and the shipping companies when problems do arise.”
In the case of the construction barge, for instance, Fire Rescue became the eyes and ears on the scene while the Coast Guard station in Louisville, Ky., arranged for two nearby tugs from shipping companies to capture the barge.
“With a crane floating free, you have to work quickly to minimize the possibility of damage. So the Coast Guard relied on us to spot it and escort it while the tugs got in place,” Chandler said. “We also had the bridge construction managers onboard the fire boat during the operation.”
Chandler said the fire boat team includes 14 members who are trained for river duty. They use a fully equipped 25-foot Boston Whaler center-console boat that the City purchased five years ago.
For a river town, the fire boat is a busy and essential part of the public safety network. The team answered 28 calls for service in 2018, logging 400 hours of duty, in addition to numerous assignments on the river during events like Riverfest and the Independence Day celebration.
Members of Clarksville Fire Rescue’s Marine Response Division operate the City’s fire boat on the Cumberland River.