Coast Guard: Crew in fireboat crash not trained for conditions

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The investigation into a fireboat crash into a buoy in the Charleston harbor found that the crew on board the vessel at the time of the crash had minimal training -- especially at night.

In a press conference about the crash investigation held Friday afternoon, Coast Guard officials said a series of problems contributed to the crash, including a high speed, a lack of a lookout and equipment failure. Officials found that one of the vessel's navigational displays had failed and had to be rebooted by a crew member while the vessel was already underway.

The investigation also found that the crew "struggled adjusting the navigation equipment for nighttime use," adding that no one aboard the fireboat felt like they were skilled in its operation.

In addition, the crew had been on duty for 15 hours before being called to help a Navy vessel in distress. The crew also had not worked together regularly before the incident, officials found.

The Coast Guard made several recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future, including the creation of a standard proficiency that's tested. The investigators also recommended setting speed limits that are based on visibility and environmental factors.

The recommendations also include a policy setting minimum rest periods for water-based operations, staffing a fulltime marine division, putting dewatering equipment on each vessel, and check the protective equipment for crewmembers.

"The next thing for me to do is compile all of the investigative interviews together and I will be interviewing my personnel. And, from that I will make determinations about what steps I'm going to take," Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack said.

She the department will continue to use 24-hour shifts for the city's firefighters, but added she will look into compensating fireboat crews.

"What happens in a 24-hour shift is we have some rotation of crew members in and out of stations. But, we have assigned to Station 2, Station 3 and Station 11 members of the team," she said. "And, this just happened to be a group of people that, even though they had been through all of the initial training, had not worked together probably as much as we would have liked."

Brack said the department would not be handing down punishments to the crew that caused the crash.

In April, the fire boat was called to help a U.S. Navy boat and while heading to the vessel's location, struck a buoy. According to a statement from the fire department, members of the crew were injured.

One of the Navy crew members was airlifted to a nearby hospital and two others were taken ashore by a Coast Guard crew and then taken to the hospital by Charleston County EMS.

According to Charity Hardison from the public affairs office for the Navy Expedition Combat Command, six sailors were injured. Hardison said three were transported to MUSC in stable condition and the other three were treated and released.

It's estimated repairs to the fireboat will cost $53,000, most of which will come from insurance.