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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 1 year ago

Longboat Key adds rough and ready high-water rescue truck

Military-style machine adds a new element to Longboat Fire Rescue's flood-response plans.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Tropical Storm Eta presented a challenge for Longboat Key first responders.

As tides and rain runoff rose during the November 2020 storm, north-end roads began flooding. And then, Longboat Key Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Carr recalled, there was a 911 call about a fire in Longbeach Village.

There never was a question about responding into the rising salt water to protect lives and property, but . . .

“We were told by our fleet services maintenance that we were probably about four inches from destroying a truck completely,” Carr said. “So it was that close to the air intake.”

Enter the town's newest vehicle, a behemoth of a four-wheel drive machine that can easily roll through almost anything Longboaters can expect do see and looks perhaps more suited to a Tom Clancy novel than a day by the beach. It would have cost the town $850,000 if not for a sweet deal that brought it to town for free.

The 1998 Stewart & Stevenson M1078 cargo truck was designed as a light- to medium-duty tactical military transport to haul soldiers and cargo. Its Austrian designers built into it the capability of fording a 1-meter deep body of water and climbing a 60% gradient.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said acquiring a high-water vehicle was one of the recommendations in the 2018 phase one sea level rise study.

“How it makes the improvement is because our (other) trucks are limited with the actual depth of water that they can go,” Carr said.

Carr said first responders operating the high-water truck do not need a special license, but the town is putting together a training program as it does for its other vehicles.

The town of Longboat Key needs to paint its 1998 Stewart & Stevenson M1078 before Fire Rescue Department personnel can use it.

While the department will use the vehicle primarily for high-water purposes, Harmer said the town could consider other uses for it. Harmer said the Fire Rescue Department also has a process to make sure the vehicle is operating properly given that high-water events only happen periodically throughout the year.

Carr said he hopes the Longboat Key taxpayers see the value in the new high-water truck.

“So you’re not talking about, ‘Hey, we’re going to dump almost a $1 million piece of apparatus in saltwater,’” Carr said. “That, to me, is huge.”

Before the M1078’s arrival, Harmer said that Manatee County sent out a high-water vehicle to Longboat Key in advance of Hurricane Elsa at the start of July.

“Our intent has been to get our own,” Harmer said.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.

“I’d say West Manatee (County and) East Manatee, Sarasota (County), they all have some variation where they may not call it a high-water vehicle, they may call it a brush truck because they’re essentially the same concept where they use it for wildfires and whatnot, and that way they can go through unstable ground,” Carr said. “It’s a large 4x4 vehicle that sits way high off the ground (and) is able to get through all kinds of brush.

“We don’t have a whole lot of major brush issues out here to get through, but our issue is high water during storms.” 

Specifically, Longboat Key has low-lying areas that often flood even in a heavy rainstorm. Harmer said it includes Broadway, Lyons Lane and St. Judes Drive.


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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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