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KOTZEBUE - The newest addition to the Kotzebue Volunteer Fire Department may have a V-8 engine built for speed, but it's more geared to save lives.
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The recent arrival of a Canadian-built airboat fills a gap in ice and water rescues for the fire department that in the past has relied on area residents to supply airboats in many rescues.
"It has a 350-small block Chevy engine in it that's been kind of beefed up for this type of operation," said Chief Steve Troxell. "It's kind of a racing engine."
However, it won't be used for racing.
With its polyethylene bottom reinforced by Kevlar - the same material used in bulletproof vests - it's designed to travel over and through anything including snow, ice, slushy water and, in some instances, land.
"The shape of the bow is designed like an ice-breaker bow. It will ride up and over the ice," Troxell said. "It also has the ability to push through with minimum effort."
The 19-foot airboat has enough seating for six, but allows seats to fold up for space to fit a patient in a backboard or rescue litter. A diver's platform that swings over the side of the boat to allow easier rescuing was added at the request of the fire department. Without it, rescuers would have to fish victims out of the water by hauling them up and over the side of the boat.
"It's designed to go out and save people," Troxell said. "It's not designed to go out and tow a crippled boat."
The Husky Nattiq airboat is the third boat of its kind in Alaska, but the first for a fire department, said Archie Ferguson, president of the Kotzebue Volunteer Fire Association and deputy fire chief. He said the other two are in of Deadhorse for oil companies.
"We're hoping to blaze a trail for all types of governments like city, borough, state and federal, to incorporate this brand of airboat for emergency response, especially in the most dangerous times of the year," he said. "Spring-time thaw and fall-time freeze-up as well as summer and winter uses."