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A man eyes the docked Santa Cruz Fire boat Wednesday afternoon as he rows through North Harbor. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- On its way to an expected launch in summer 2013, a newly refurbished Santa Cruz fire boat was tested on the water for the first time on Tuesday.

The 35-foot Willard powerboat had been a Coast Guard vessel in Alaska and was recently owned by the Alameda Fire Department.

The Santa Cruz Fire Department bought the boat from the city of Alameda for $1 earlier this year.

The boat has a "gun" on deck that can shoot up to 500 gallons of seawater per minute. The vessel also is expected to aid in evacuations, rescues and hazardous materials spills.

However, the boat needed engine and electrical work, new paint and radio equipment. Nearly all of that work is done, Santa Cruz Fire Capt. Rob Oatey said Wednesday, but firefighters still must be trained to use the boat.

"It's been a long road," Oatey said. "We've got to do a considerable amount of training."

Oatey said he hoped to have the still unnamed boat in the water by July Fourth -- the most active time for Santa Cruz boaters.

Taken out of its dry dock this week, the boat is now tied up at U Dock in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. Firefighters are trying to secure a slip closer to the harbor mouth for faster ocean access.

The boat is expected to cost about $10,000 annually to operate and maintain, firefighters said. The initial cost of transportation and repair was less than $5,000.

Some critics have said the boat was unnecessary given that the Coast Guard, State Parks and Harbor Patrol have rescue boats that serve Santa Cruz County. Firefighters have said that the boat is valuable because the closest boat that can fight fires is in Monterey.


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"We're trying to develop a plan to be accessible 24 hours a day on this side of the (Monterey) Bay, not just for fires but for hazmat," Oatey said. "It could also be useful for wharf evacuations and water rescues."

The boat will not replace the rescue personal watercraft that the fire department also has for water rescue, Oatey said.

Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter at Twitter.com/sbaxter_sc