SHREWSBURY, Mass. — With a length of 4 miles and a surface area of about 770 acres, the oddly shaped Lake Quinsigamond can be a challenge for safety patrols, especially as it intermittently freezes and thaws over the winter. The Shrewsbury Fire Department, however, has one unusual piece of equipment to make search and rescues on the lake easier — a two-person hovercraft.
Fire department personnel have been training to use the vehicle, which can travel safely over the lake, whether the lake’s surface is frozen or not.
The hovercraft is used for ice and water rescues, according to Fire Chief Jim Vuona, whose department services as the primary ice-rescue agency on the lake.
“In warmer weather, you have the police boat on the lake. Obviously, it’s in shrink-wrap right now,” he said. “The advantage of the hovercraft is it can go over broken ice."
Firefighters are trained twice a year — on open water and over the ice. The hovercraft can be maneuvered close enough to toss a victim a line or drop a firefighter in the water to help.
The vehicle can be used to support rescue operations in neighboring towns and was used in late January to Wachusett Reservoir to assist environmental police attempting to rescue a deer stranded on the ice.
Operating the hovercraft — which sits on a cushion of air and uses a rear-mounted propeller for propulsion — is an experience different than most other vehicles, Firefighter Joe Milos said.
“Nothing touches the ground when you’re riding, so everything you do you’ve got to plan ahead,” Milos said. “There are no brakes. When you go to turn, the craft will turn sideways, but you’ll still be going in a straight line — you need to use the throttle to turn it around. It’s similar to a jetski. If you lay off the throttle you have no steering.”