At rush hour on a mid-September evening, the wakes from all the new fast ferries shuttling suits back to New Jersey tossed the 1931 fireboat against the pier. From my spot in the wheelhouse of the boat that had become, for me, like another home, I heard the dock lines squeak and whine—pulled so tight that the force rung out moisture from the rope fibers. What had brought me here on this quiet night was a need for clarity, perspective, or at least some escape. The city’s somber commemorations of the first anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil had left me raw and reeling.
One year earlier, on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001, retired New York City fireboat John J. Harvey returned to her home berth after four days supplying Hudson River water to fight fires at the World Trade Center. Back then I was a newly minted marine engineer. At Ground Zero I had worked as part of the volunteer, civilian crew that served alongside active-duty members of the FDNY Marine Battalion. Hydrants lay buried beneath debris. Water mains had shattered. For days following the towers’ collapse, fireboats provided the only firefighting water available at Ground Zero.