The fire boat John J. Harvey reaches its 90th birthday this fall and is still able to pump water over the deck of the George Washington Bridge like she did at the bridge’s opening in 1931. This former FDNY boat was one of the most powerful fireboats ever built. Built by Todd Ship Yards in Brooklyn, she is capable of pumping up to 18,000 gallons of water a minute. Commissioned on December 17, 1931, she faithfully served the department until 1994 and then was auctioned in 1999 to its present private consortium of marine preservationists who sought to save her from being scrapped. Among the famous marine fires she fought includes the Cunard Line pier fire in 1932, the burning of the French liner Normandie in 1942 during its conversion to a troop ship, the El Estero ammunition ship in Bayonne (if she was not purposely sunk, the explosion would have destroyed most of midtown Manhattan), and the oil tanker collision of the Alva Cape and Texaco Massachusetts in 1966 on the East River. Her marine characteristics are a displacement of 268 net tons, a length of 130 feet, beam of 28 feet, and draught of nine feet. Originally fitted with five gasoline-electric motors, they were replaced in 1957 with five Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston Model 38F51/4 which consist of eight cylinders with 16 pistons. She has twin screws and can reach a speed of 18 knots.
The Harvey has eight deck monitors and 24 large connections for fire hoses which were greatly appreciated when called to serve on 9/11. In 2018 to mark the centenary of World War I’s end, the John J. Harvey was repainted in a “dazzle” tribute to mark the era’s most colorful camouflage. A project of the Public Art Fund in collaboration with 14-18 NOW, a World War 1 centenary arts program in the UK, the Harvey represented a series of ships inspired by World War 1 dazzle camouflage. It was not designed to hide but confuse German U-boats that were regularly sinking British and American vessels. The paint scheme was to paint ships in a way that broke up their forms, using stripes, curves, and bright colors to baffle U-boat gunners as to which way a vessel was heading. Influenced by Cubism and Vorticism, “dazzle camouflage” was applied to thousands of ships in the UK, and soon adopted by the United States Navy which dazzled its World War I vessels in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center brought crew members rushing to the John J. Harvey to help assist in the evacuation of thousands of persons from Ground Zero.
While carrying as many individuals as possible to safer locations, the New York Fire Department officials spotted the Harvey and asked if her pumps still worked. She returned to Ground Zero and moored along the Battery Seawall by tying herself to nearby trees. There was no water available at the World Trade Center, so crew members helped cobble together adapters to hook new hoses to old outlets to help supply water from the river. Crew worked for over 80-hours non-stop and were joined by active FDNY fireboats John D. McKean and Fire Fighter. As a result of her efforts, the Harvey was presented with a special National Preservation Award for its role in 9/11. At the present time, her homeport is the North River Maritime Pier 66, a part of the Hudson River Park in New York City. Each year the John J. Harvey travels the region to promote waterfront vitalizations, water displays, and tours of her crew’s onboard preservation efforts.
A few locations she has recently been are: the Oyster Bay Festival in Long Island, Tugboat Roundup in Waterford, NY, Roundout Valley School District in Kingston, NY, and the FASNY Fire Museum in Hudson, NY. For more information on the John J. Harvey, upcoming trips and events, or to sign up for our newsletter, The SPLASH, contact www.fireboat.org.
– Fire News story and photo courtesy of Chuck Parodi; Deckhand, John J. Harvey