With lessons of past storms in hand, Foley Fire Chief Joey Darby recently got approval to buy one boat for each fire station to be used in flooding conditions.

“We still want to continue to think back about the lessons that we learned and prepare for the future,” Darby said. “It’s something we’ll continue to work on both with equipment and training to be prepared to respond as we continue to grow. Obviously, we’re always subject to natural disaster threats. The better prepared we are, the better service we can provide.”

One of the boats will be more of a flat-bottomed boat duck hunters sometimes use and another is a portable jon boat. The city is buying the pair for a total of about $31,000.

“We asked the council for approval to move forward and we’re excited to be able to do that,” Darby said. “We’ve already went and got the portable boat and we’ve got a boat package (boat, motor and trailer) that’s going to be put together for us up in Opelika. Hopefully, here in just a very short period of time we’re going to have those in inventory and start the process of training.”

One particular section of Foley was hard hit by Sally in 2020 as well as the overnight rain of April 30-May 1 in 2014 and the boats would have been helpful in both situations, Darby said.

“I guess the backstory behind that is lessons learned from Hurricane Sally and really going all the way back to the flood of 2014,” Darby said. “But especially in Hurricane Sally when we were making rescues, what I would consider flood water rescues in residential neighborhoods. And, trying to understand what the best equipment would be for those rescues.”

The Cajun Navy came in to help during Sally and Darby and crews saw how effective those boats were operating in flooded residential areas.

“They were a big help,” Darby said. “But in trying to prepare for the future, we tried to increase our inventory of equipment so that we’re better prepared internally to move people from those type of conditions. We tried to focus on boats that were quickly deployable, aluminum boats and boats that require very little water to operate, a very low draft and can be maneuvered in all the different obstacles that you face in a residential setting that’s flooded.”

While they will carry basic equipment, the goal is to keep them lightweight as possible so they can carry out more people with each trip.

“We’re really focusing on these boats to move people in flood water conditions,” Darby said. “We don’t want to tie up the capacity of the boat with equipment so it’ll be just basic safety equipment.”

Mayor Ralph Hellmich said these kinds of boats can have small motors or crews can walk in the water towing the boat and passengers to dry ground.

“A lot of times you see first responders literally walking beside the boat with the elderly people sitting inside,” Hellmich said. “They look like little aluminum jon boats. If we have a flooded neighborhood where it’s not over the houses but people want to get out you can take your jon boat and go in there and get them, get their belongings and some of their pets.”