North Charleston officials want to purchase a fireboat to combat waterfront disasters, saying the expanding port and potential terror threats mandate better protection.

City Council on Thursday approved pursuing a nearly $800,000 Department of Homeland Security grant to purchase a 30-foot, fully equipped fireboat.

The vessel is needed "to provide comprehensive fire protection to a port community," Fire Chief Gregory Bulanow said.

If approved, it would be the first full-service fireboat in the Charleston area, he added.

Charleston's waterfront communities have various marine-response capabilities. But in the event of a disaster or waterfront fire, North Charleston officials say a dedicated fireboat would be key given the city's distance up the Cooper River from other municipalities or the next line of help.

Bulanow also noted North Charleston has rivers on two sides with significant commercial and recreational boat traffic tied to each.

The department has a 21-foot boat with a portable 300 gallon-per-minute pump. The boat being pursued in the grant would have a 2,000 gallon-per-minute pump, greatly increasing the department's disaster-response capabilities. If the grant is awarded, the city would have to put up about $200,000 in matching funds. The cost would include training the personnel who are assigned to boat duty.

City Councilman Ed Astle said a dedicated fireboat would cover a much-needed service on the waterfront. Ever since the regular Navy presence at the former shipyard left, fewer tugs with water spray are available, he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or