What's a tiny volunteer fire company in Bensalem doing with a $1 million taxpayer-funded fireboat tricked out to troll the Delaware River for blazes, bodies, terrorists, and IEDs?
Nothing, besides preening for festival crowds and crashing into objects seen and unseen.
With fewer than 30 active members - only a handful of whom even live in Bensalem - Union already "scratches," or fails to respond to, nearly a third of its emergency calls. When they make rare marine runs, it's usually to recover bodies. Until this year, the firefighters took off in a modest motorboat to guffaws at a nearby yacht club.
Although history suggests otherwise, the firefighters swear there's a genuine need on the upper Delaware for a superboat that can break through ice and pump 4,500 gallons a minute.
"The Bensalem police have an armored car," argues Dave Jerri Sr., a Union member and boat defender. "When's the last time they used it?"
The cops - who have no armored car, just a secondhand SWAT vehicle - scoff at the comparison. As Bensalem's public safety director, Fred Harran, puts it, "I didn't think the federal government would be stupid enough to give them a boat."
The beast has four remote-controlled "guns" able to fill a swimming pool in four minutes. She also shoots foam. A double-thick aluminum layer helps "Firestorm" motor through five inches of ice.
The boat came outfitted with an area to detain prisoners, a stable shooting platform and an infrared camera for night ops, even though Union members cannot fire weapons or make arrests.
And then there's side-scan sonar, a high-tech $37,000 accessory enabling the crew to scour the river floor for improvised explosive devices.
"IEDs?" cackles Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. "Are you serious?"