Fireboat heading into port one last time

February 15, 2010
Jessica DuLong profile photo
Jessica DuLong



For an engineer on an old fireboat that came back to life after being sold for scrap, this Boston Globe story by David Filipov, about an aging fireboat that “has responded to thousands of distress calls in its half-century of service” and is now poised for destruction, hits home.


Perhaps, like retired 1931 New York City Fireboat John J. Harvey, which was purchased at a scrap auction in 1999 and is now run as a preservation project, Fireboat City of Portland III will find new owners who don’t want to cut her up for steel to make Toyotas. Either way, I can certainly sympathize with those who love the old boat and don’t want to see her go.


The fact that on September 11th, two years after she was sold for scrap, Fireboat Harvey was called out of retirement to help pump Hudson River water—the only water available at Ground Zero for days after the towers collapse—presses the point that sometimes machinery that we think has outlived its usefulness can still make a significant contribution.


That the boat was still able to serve her city in New York’s hour of greatest need is a testament to the fine craftsmanship with which she was built. Building things to last is a piece of America’s heritage that we need to get back to in this country.


On a related note: I was thrilled when a gentleman wrote to me to share a story after having read My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson in which I describe Fireboat Harvey‘s launch ceremony and the bottle broken across her bow before she slid into the river for the first time.


This gentleman told me that the woman who smashed that bottle was his mother, and as a youth he’d discovered the glass shards and the dried roses that his mother had clutched in gloved hands on that day.


I wonder if Deborah Gray, who christened the City of Portland III, has similar artifacts from her role in the boat’s launch.


(Thanks to @kinkorati for the link to the Boston Globe story.)