The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office may get a new specialized boat to use for water rescues and monitoring local waterways and environmental hazards.
This week, Sheriff Jim Hammond got approval from the county commission to apply for a $590,000 Homeland Security grant, of which the county would have to match about $147,000. The money would pay for the boat, a trailer and a truck.
The sheriff's office marine patrol division responds to homeland security incidents around the region, Hammond said. The division's need for better equipment to carry out search-and-rescues was highlighted by a January incident in which a plane crashed in Chickamauga Lake.
There are currently two boats in the sheriff's office fleet — one that's 23 feet long and one that's 24 feet — that the dive team operate. Those boats are mostly used for patrol and interdiction purposes, Cpl. Michael Korter said.
"The problem with these boats, as we see in dive operations, especially ones that become so complex as the plane crash ... we have zero room," Korter said.
About seven people have to go on the boats, leaving little space for the necessary equipment, he said.
The boat they are requesting would have an enclosed cabin that would provide safety during colder weather, something that slowed plane search and recovery efforts back in January.
With the water temperature around 45 degrees, divers had to surface after an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to warm up and rest for up to three hours or more.
"You get hypothermic extremely, extremely quickly," Korter said, noting that a diver had a tear in his suit and had to resurface quickly because his suit flooded.
"We were really fortunate that TVA had a boat on the water," he said. " ... [The diver] would have been probably in a little bit worse condition if he had not had an enclosed cabin, which was what the TVA safety boat had for him to go into."
The new boat would be 34 feet long and have a 120-square-foot working space, Korter said. It would be more of a barge than a patrol boat and would have biohazard monitoring equipment.
The county's portion of the price tag would not be budgeted until and if the grant is received, commissioners said during their April 10 meeting. At that point, the budget would be amended.