For the Union Springs Fire Department, saving lives sometimes requires more than a fire truck.
As a lakeside fire department, the southern Cayuga firefighters occasionally rescue stranded boaters, recover the bodies of drowning victims and put out both boat and camp fires. But for the past two years, the fire department has worked without a real rescue boat, encumbering its ability to fully perform its duty as one of central New York's oldest water rescue groups.
Garrett Waldron, chief of the Union Springs Fire Department, said his department was not always without proper boats. At one point, he said his department proudly counted four boats — including two amphibious "ducks" — among its fleet.
But when one of the department's ducks blew up following a fuel leak in 2010, seriously injuring a firefighter, Waldron said both of the well-equipped rescue boats, both built during World War II, had to be retired.
Over the past two years, Waldron said Union Springs has felt the loss.
In 2012 alone, Waldron said, three people drowned in Cayuga Lake — two within the Springport Fire District's borders.
The chief said his department's small v-haul boat had a hard time cutting through 5-foot-tall waves, and could not carry as many divers or equipment as larger boats. At times, Waldron said firefighters had to borrow boats from private residents in order to get divers into the lake.
Now, after spending time researching rescue vessels and working with local and state politicians, Waldron said the Union Springs Fire Department is ready to replace its lost ducks.
Waldron said his department has its eye on a 30-foot landing craft/fire boat built by Lake Assault Boats. Along with possessing an enclosed cabin equipped with multiple radios, color GPS, sonar, and an infrared video camera, the boat has a large deck spacious enough to transport divers and a fire pump capable of putting out boat and camp fires.
But before the Union Springs Fire Department can purchase the boat, Waldron said Springport residents must vote to allow the department to purchase the $275,000 boat.
Waldron said the new landing craft would be paid for using $125,000 already set aside in the fire department's budget and a 10-year bond worth $150,000. He said the purchase wouldn't cost taxpayers living in the Springport Fire District any extra money.
"Our taxes aren't going to go up at all," Waldron said. "Taxes are going to stay flat."
So from Waldron's perspective, there is no reason not to vote "yes."
"We got handicapped when we lost our ducks," he said. "This will help central New York.