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SF commissions newest fireboat on anniversary of Loma Prieta quake

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San Francisco firefighters and city officials hold a ceremony to commission a new fireboat at McCovey Cove in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, October 17, 2016. (Wesaam Al-Badry/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco welcomed its newest fireboat, dubbed “The St. Francis,” on Monday, 27 years to the day after the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the Bay Area.

The earthquake anniversary was chosen to commission the new boat because when the temblor hit in 1989, a fireboat was credited with saving the Marina District from greater destruction by providing a critical source of water when local water lines collapsed.

The St. Francis, which took two years to build, possesses the latest technology that allows the boat to act as a floating pump and lay water lines to fight fires. It has a cutting-edge radar system and an infrared-sensor system to determine any heat signatures — even in the water.

“The technology is completely different,” Pilot Joel Delizonna said at Monday’s event celebrating the new boat at Seal Plaza at McCovey Cove. “[The old fireboat] was like a 60-year-old car and now you have a brand new car.”

The boat cost $11.7 million, with $8 million coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and approximately $3.2 million from The City. While not specifically considered a rescue boat, it does have an onboard infirmary with a staff paramedic on duty.

Out of 300 entries, 8-year-old Nico Rivera came up with the winning boat name. He is the son of Fire Department Capt. Tony Rivera. Nico said he thought of the name after thinking about The City’s name.

“It feels really, really great,” Rivera said when asked about naming the boat. “I felt really proud. I am proud to be from San Francisco.” Before the name was announced, Nico Rivera read a poem written by a San Francisco firefighter in 1935.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mayor Ed Lee, Fire Commissioner Francee Covington, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and other dignitaries were on hand to welcome the new boat. Feinstein, who christened the boat, recalled when she was mayor there were calls to decommission the fireboats as a cost-saving measure.
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But the Loma Prieta earthquake proved the need for these special boats, Feinstein said. She described the fireboat as The City’s “save point” should something happen, and “a portable hydrant” when needed.

Feinstein also acknowledged San Francisco’s retired Assistant Fire Chief Frank Blackburn’s contribution as being instrumental in creating the floating fire-fighting system. Blackburn designed an aboveground, portable line system to pump water directly from the fire boat. She said the technology he created was used in Rwanda and was credited with saving 140,000 lives.

The St. Francis joins two other city fire boats, The Guardian and The Phoenix. A decision on decommissioning The Phoenix has yet to be determined.

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