The Stories of 9/11’s LGBTQ+ Heroes
The freelance writer found herself on a historic fireboat, pumping much-needed seawater to ground zero.
As firefighters and rescue workers rushed to battle the blaze of melting iron and crumbled concrete where the World Trade Center towers once stood, damaged water mains and destroyed fire hydrants left them dangerously low on water. In response, a bevy of fireboats docked at the western sea wall of Manhattan island within hours, furiously pumping seawater to land.
There too was the John J. Harvey, a 70-year-old fireboat long retired from the fire department. Onboard, a crew of history buffs and volunteers—who had spent years restoring the boat to working condition out of an interest in historic preservation—were busy making history themselves.
Among them was assistant engineer Jessica DuLong, a 28-year-old bisexual freelance writer from Brooklyn. “The boat was just a few hundred yards from the World Trade Center,” she says. “We were staring into the mouth of a treacherous scene.” At times, she says, “it was hard to breathe; we were all choking from the smoke. But we just kept working. It was a job we knew had to get done.”
For three days and nights, DuLong worked with her team around the clock, pumping water as needed. During sporadic periods of rest, she slept on a makeshift bed pulled together from the boat’s kitchen table and a fetid mattress.
When DuLong wasn’t repairing seals on water pumps, she would jump onshore and help sort the tons of donated goods pouring into the site. DuLong weeded through the donations and separated the needed items from the useless.
“There never seemed to be enough respirators, gloves, flashlights, or hard hats,” she says. “But we had more Pampers and hand puppets than we knew what to do with.”
At one point during DuLong’s grueling three days, panic struck the firefighters and rescue workers as rumor spread that yet another building was about to collapse. DuLong was onshore sorting donations when she was overtaken by a stampede of men running for safety. She joined the race for cover, finally jumping on her boat and scurrying for shelter. “To be honest,” she whispers, “I was petrified, I was terrified.”
But she is proud of the work she and the others on the John J. Harvey accomplished. The fire department sent the crew a message saying the water they pumped probably saved 200 lives.