Hanover to Buy Rescue Boat

Donations Cover Most of Cost For 21-Foot Inflatable Craft

Hanover — With the help of private donations, the Hanover Fire Department this month is purchasing a rescue boat and associated equipment to serve a stretch of the Connecticut River near where a relative of a Dartmouth student drowned last year.

The town accepted $50,000 last week from Dartmouth College and the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, of Hanover, to buy the 21-foot watercraft, which will be based at Wilson’s Landing on the Connecticut River.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the Hanover Fire Department and I’m very grateful to our partners,” Fire Chief Martin McMillan said on Friday.

The section of river between Hanover and Norwich, despite being deeper and having a stronger current than many other popular bodies of water, is nevertheless seeing an uptick in use, McMillan said.

Yet Hanover has never had its own rescue boat, besides the pontoon boat that the college operates, he said. The new purchase will work in tandem with the college’s pontoon, which is less suited for mooring with other boats and pulling people out of the water. The new rigid inflatable boat, or RIB, has a hard bottom and a soft, inflatable shell, unlike the Plexiglas sides of the pontoon.

McMillan said he had a check in hand on Friday for Defender Industries, Inc., the company that makes the “Zodiac” model the fire department intends to purchase, and that the inflatable should be ready for action within a few weeks.

The cost of the Zodiac, plus equipment, is about $62,000, but the fire department was able to fill the gap with some funding left over from last year, McMillan said.

The Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation has funded many causes in the Upper Valley over the years, including education, volunteer organizations, cancer research and churches. Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center have been frequent recipients of its grants.

Dorothy Byrne was traveling and unavailable to comment on the gift, Katie Collins, of the Byrne Foundation, said on Friday. Although Byrne had more detailed knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the gift, the town had approached the foundation first with a proposal for funding, Collins said.

The Selectboard accepted the money after a public hearing on Monday. State law requires town governments to hold hearings before taking donations of more than $5,000.

The new boat will have a sonar system and an underwater camera, which would have been useful last June in recovering the body of a Ghanaian student who drowned near Patchen’s Point while visiting his brother, a graduating Dartmouth student, Town Manager Julia Griffin said on Friday.

The fire department will work together with Dartmouth and surrounding towns once it acquires the Zodiac, which can travel over land on a flatbed truck.

But when rescue teams lack the proper training and equipment, collaborative efforts can sometimes go tragically wrong.

In August 2006, a Springfield, Vt., woman drowned after a Cornish Rescue Squad boat that was unsuited for deep water overturned while she was being transported. A Sullivan County prosecutor’s investigation later found that the crew had spent little time training with their equipment. The family named Cornish Rescue, the airboat manufacturer and multiple towns in a lawsuit alleging wrongful death and a raft of other damages, and eventually settled out of court in 2012.

But many of Hanover’s firefighters already have the proper training, Griffin said.

McMillan, who previously worked in Rochester, N.Y., on Lake Ontario, has extensive experience with water rescue operations and said that the Zodiac model was popular with many emergency services, including the Coast Guard. The boat can hold a surprisingly large number of people, which could be useful, given that Dartmouth’s crew team practices near Wilson’s Landing, he said.

“If you’ve got one of the eights (a racing boat that holds eight people) out — if, God forbid, something happens, you’ve got the ability to put up to 15 people in this boat,” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.