The fireboat in Stony Creek was a bit like having a fire station in your back yard, according to some Riviera Beach residents. It was ideal when there was an emergency, but not so appealing when there wasn't.
Deciding the boat was more of a safety liability than an asset, the Sunset Beach Improvement Association asked the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company to remove it this season, which has happened.
The volunteer company still has a boat in Rock Creek, which is a good location from which to send out rescue operations and fight fires on boats in the Patapsco River. But from the Rock Creek marina, it takes 10 minutes to get to Stony Creek by water, causing some residents to question whether the delay in response could jeopardize saving lives.
Fire officials say they can carry a rescue boat to Stony Creek and launch it within minutes.
"You have to evaluate risks vs. benefits," said Anne Arundel County Fire Battalion Chief John M. Scholz. "The boat lift [for the removed boat] is adjacent to a swimming area. And there are also many children at play on the route to the lift."
Two men whose small foam composite boat capsized this spring drowned in Nabbs Creek - a tributary of Stony Creek.
The creek continues to be a popular spot for recreational boaters and a heavily trafficked waterway, especially on weekends.
But, said Kenneth Hyde, chief of the Riviera Beach volunteer company, "We'll be able to rescue no matter what."
The fire station is minutes from the Stony Creek shore, he said, and the company has a 45-foot floatable ladder bridge that is used in water rescues, and an 8-foot inflatable boat that can be transported on the fire engine, said Hyde.
The company has made a handful of rescues in the creek in recent years. But often, passing boaters make the rescues because they are closest, Hyde said. "If someone falls off [water skis or a boat], they're usually picked up right away by the other boaters."
The firefighters don't regularly patrol in the rescue boats, except during especially busy weekends, holidays and regattas.
Still, a few members of the community association had been upset because they believed the fire company hadn't requested permission to moor the rescue boat, though the fire company had been given permission by former board members and had reconstructed the pier with volunteer company funds. The boat continued to be the subject of dissension and rumor in the small community.
But communication association President Frank Perrone said, "Things are getting better. I haven't heard any comments about it not being there."
From his point of view, the boat was a safety problem. "Kids are riding their scooters and bikes through there. And it's a swimming pier. If you have a fire it's a different story, but they'll still come through if there's a fire now," he said.
Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds toured the site in the midst of the controversy and suggested it would be better if the fire company's boat ramp was moved because of the nearby swimmers and children. He did not say the boat necessarily should be moved from Stony Creek, said Scholz.
"Of course, it would be nice to have a boat in Stony Creek," Scholz said. "But Anne Arundel County is full of tributaries. How do you predict where you'll have an emergency?"
Hyde said the company is planning to sell both of the rescue boats later this year and use the proceeds to purchase an upgraded rescue boat. It will be able to carry 12 people and cruise at 60 mph, he said. The new boat will also be able to pump 500 gallons of water per minute and will have a cabin to provide shelter in bad weather, said Hyde.
"It will be so much better than what we have now," he said.