Report criticizes unnecessary spending of grant money

IFD purchased a $69,000 Hovercraft with federal grant money to aid in water and ice rescues.
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A scathing report out of Washington says cities are using thousands of dollars of federal grant money on unnecessary gadgets, disguising them as tools to fight terrorism.

One of the items was traced back here to Indianapolis.

When the alarm sounds at Indianapolis Fire Headquarters and Station 7, tactical teams must be ready for more than just fire.

"Whenever there's a flooding event, whenever there's an ice event," explained Dave Owens, the Deputy Chief of Homeland Security at the Indianapolis Fire Department.

In 2007, the city's Homeland Security division decided to add a new tool and it's now raising eyebrows in a new report called "Safety at Any Price." It reportedly "exposes misguided and wasteful spending" by cities, using homeland security grants for wish lists while claiming to fight terrorism.

According to Senator Tom Coburn, "Every dollar misspent in the name of security weakens our already precarious economic condition."

That includes the $69,000 dollars of federal grant money used to buy the Hovercraft. It's a water rescue vehicle designed to glide atop water, ice and even land.

13 Investigates first questioned the purchase after it first surfaced in Indianapolis. We spoke with John Ball with Marion County Emergency Management.

"They could think it's something that's frivolous or extraneous or somebody's toy," Ball said in 2007,

Ball told 13 Investigates he was convinced the Hovercraft would be put to good use.

"Conditions where we're really putting rescuers in harm's way at some very extremely dangerous circumstances. The Hovercraft gives us a tool to increase that safety," added Ball, explaining the purchase.

Now the place where the Hovercraft sat sits empty at Station 7. An assessment at IFD revealed it wasn't as practical for central Indiana.

After training six pilots, the watercraft was only used once in a four-year period. It was used in a search and rescue on Valentines Day 2009, when their canoe capsized in the White River.

"This Hovercraft made sense and it worked really, really well in that low water environment. We just didn't use it very much," Owens admitted.

Still, he disagrees with the "Safety At Any Price" report, calling the purchase wasteful.

"I think they just need to talk to us all, before they make a report like that," he said, concerned that the nation isn't getting the complete picture. "That piece of equipment is a very good piece of equipment to use to respond to a flooding event, or an ice storm or anything like that that dams up the waterways."

Owens, who was not part of the purchasing team for the Hovercraft, made a formal transfer of the vehicle to Indiana's Emergency Management Division 10, which handles emergencies along the Ohio River near Evansville.

For now, the Indianapolis Fire Department will continue making water rescues using the equipment it has relied on for years and leave the government in southern Indiana to prove whether the Hovercraft was worth it.