During her decades of FDNY service, fireboat John J. Harvey fought hundreds of serious fires, explosions, and marine disasters.
One was aboard the ammunition ship El Estero. In 1943 fireboat Harvey and fellow FDNY vessel Fire Fighter went into harm’s way to control a raging fire. The ship was eventually scuttled, and fireboat Harvey‘s entire crew received the highest awards for bravery.
Seymour Wittek, a former Coast Guardsman who helped battle the fire that threatened to devastate New York Harbor during World War II, died at 88.
From the New York Times‘ obituary:
“… Just then, a fire erupted beneath the engine room of an old Panamanian freighter, El Estero, berthed at Caven Point and laden with explosives. Two ammunition ships and a line of railroad cars packed with munitions were nearby. More than 5,000 tons of explosives could go off in a chain reaction if the Estero blew up, creating an inferno that might engulf fuel tanks at Bayonne, N.J., and on Staten Island, cripple the nation’s busiest wartime port and bring catastrophic damage and casualties.
A Coast Guard officer asked for volunteers from the Jersey City barracks to fight the fire, and got 60 of them. ‘Nobody looked left, nobody looked right, nobody looked backwards,’ Mr. Wittek recalled in an interview with The New York Times on the 2008 Memorial Day weekend. ‘The men that volunteered all stepped forward — immediately.’
The Guardsmen rushed to the pier aboard trucks and grabbed hoses and axes while the New York City fireboats Fire Fighter and John J. Harvey as well as Coast Guard vessels doused the freighter. But the fire raged on. …” [READ MORE]