The Fairfield Police Department's Marine Unit does more than respond to boaters in distress, sinkels vessels and vessel fires. It does more than perform safety inspections. It does more than enforce state and local boating laws and regulations. The marine unit, like so many others in this state, is a link in the chain that protects the Nutmeg State's coastline. Fairfield's marine unit, according to Deputy Police Chief Gary MacNamara, works with the Bridgeport Police Department, the Norwalk Police Department and also the Coast Guard. If there were an incident on a barge, or a medical issue on the ferries that travel between the Park City and Port Jefferson, N.Y., Fairfield's marine officers would be among the first to respond.

Over the years, Fairfield's largest boat, a 27-foot Boston Whaler, has had its share of wear and tear. It's 16 years old and in these times, with all that a marine unit is responsible for, it is time for an upgrade.

This past Monday, the department submitted a request for a grant to the federal government for a 33-foot Safe Boat, as the Greater Bridgeport regional harbor area will be receiving millions in funding to "ensure that our ports and waterways and shoreline are secure," MacNamara said.

The new vessel requested is a 33-foot SAFE (Secure Around Floatation Equipped) Boat that will have three outboard engines, state-of-the-art electronics that will help the police detect potential threats (the features cannot be revealed yet), 365-day-a-year capabilities (heating and air conditioning) and is a better vessel for boarding and approaching oncoming boats, according to Police Chief David Peck.

The Fairfield Police Department has wanted such a boat for years. If the federal government does not approve the funding request, the police department will request it in its budget next year. Peck said another great feature of the boat is the fact "it's inter-operable," meaning that "it's almost exactly the same boat the Coast Guard is using throughout the country."

"Any one of their boat captains can use it," he said. MacNamara said the new vessel, if the grant request is approved, will allow the Fairfield Police to enhance its role in protecting the shoreline of Connecticut and to respond to matters of homeland security.

While the public may not be aware of everything that occurs off-land, MacNamara said there's a "significant amount of activity that occurs off the coastline of Connecticut and off the coastline of Fairfield, and if a tragedy or a threat were to occur off the coast, the region wants to have the ability to respond efficiently and part of our regional security would be this new vessel."

MacNamara added, "When it comes to homeland security and response from law enforcement and emergency services, the approach has to be regional."

First Selectman Ken Flatto said the review and final approval by the federal government could take as long as six months.

In addition to the 27-footer planned for replacement, the Fairfield Police Marine Unit's other boats are a 19-foot Boston Whaler and a three-person Sea-Doo watercraft.