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Ben Mikesell/The Journal Gazette
Firefighters from Engine 10 pull a construction barge away from the St. Joe River dam after it came loose Thursday.

Firefighters pull in runaway barge

When the Fort Wayne Fire Department got a call Thursday afternoon that they were needed on the St. Joseph River, it wasn’t because someone was struggling in the water.

In fact, there wasn’t a person, pet or any living creature involved with the task at hand.

That’s because what they had to wrangle with in the St. Joseph River was a barge loaded with concrete and metal that broke free from an upriver construction site.

“That was new and unusual,” Elbert Starks, assistant chief for the department, said of the afternoon’s events.

Shortly before 2:30.p.m. the department was called to the St. Joseph Dam near North Anthony and Coliseum boulevards.

When firefighters arrived they found a large barge with concrete and metal piled atop it drifting aimlessly toward the dam.

Firefighters tried to tie the barge to a rescue boat with an outboard engine in an attempt to keep it from breaking through the dam and continuing downriver.

Their first attempt was successful, but short-lived, as the barge again started to drift toward the dam.

One of the firefighters in the boat used a rope and pulled the barge away from the dam and back to the boat, which then made the slow journey toward the Coliseum Boulevard bridge near IPFW where the barge was formerly secured.

Starks said an employee of Primco, the construction company contracted to do the bridge project, got in another boat and helped the fire department finish the tow.

By the end of the afternoon’s events, the barge was once again secured on the west bank of the river north of the bridge.

Starks said the department originally received information that a couple of kayakers might have loosened the barge, but could not confirm those reports.

Without any evidence that the barge was set adrift as a result of intentional negligence or some other deliberate act, the department will not have any recourse for restitution for the time and resources used for the operation.

The construction on Coliseum Boulevard’s bridge includes added travel lanes.

Once finished, the highway also known as Indiana 930 will be three lanes between Parnell and Crescent avenues and a left turn lane into IPFW from eastbound Coliseum Boulevard.

Primco was awarded the contract with a bid of $6.1 million. The project is scheduled for completion by late November, weather permitting, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.