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Boat Catches Fire On Ohio River, Prompts Discussion About Fire Boat Necessity

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It all happened when a boat went up in flames this afternoon, and it turns out, Pittsburgh firefighters couldn't do much about it.

A burning boat on the Ohio River sent a thick black plume of smoke over the North Shore. The owner told authorities he was taking the boat in for fuel line repairs when the boat stalled and the engine caught fire. He jumped off the craft just before it exploded.

"He wasn't able to extinguish it, so he put on a life vest, bailed out and made it to shore," said Pittsburgh EMS district chief Barry Warble.

Swimming fully clothed in a cold river was no easy task.

"He had dressed for the weather, which is a pretty heavy coat and boots," Warble said. "Good thing he had a life vest on."

The owner was treated for inhalation and exposure to toxic fumes from the burning boat. Eventually, he was taken to Mercy Hospital.

Meanwhile, firefighters tried to run hoses and spray water from a ladder truck, but the burning craft was too far out in the water.

"We don't have a fire boat, so there's… the boat kept staying far enough beyond the reach of our hose streams," said Pittsburgh Fire Bureau battalion chief Doug Praskovich.

The last time the city had a fire boat was in 1973, but at the time, the administration though the C.D. Scully wasn't needed and it was sold. Ralph Sicuro, president of the Pittsburgh Firefighters Union, wonders if the city is prepared to fight a fire on the river on a larger scale.

"Let's start with the traffic that goes through our rivers every day, back and forth," Sicuro said. "We have commercial barge traffic going through that has all kinds of material on there, some of it's hazardous material … You have the Gateway Clipper, who's running their events on their party boats throughout the week."

Sicuro says railroads also run near the river and protecting riverfront property on all sides is another reason he thinks the incident today is a good reason for the city to consider adding a fire boat to its arsenal.

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