9/11-The Return of Marine 2
In honor of the nearly 3000 who died on September 11, 2001, here is the story of the veteran fireboat John J. Harvey, brought out of retirement on that fateful day to serve its port of call one more time. She was named after a NY City fireboat pilot who died in the line of duty, and launched on April 6, 1931. At 130 feet long, 28 feet wide, and a beam of 9 feet, she was the largest fireboat in the world as built.
The Harvey had been on call during other momentous occasions before, notably when the giant French cruise liner Normandie caught fire on February 9, 1942, as she was being converted to a troop carrier. Her famous water displays were a stunning sight for special occasions like Fleet Week, as seen in the photo. Many adventurous years lay ahead until her retirement from active duty in 1994, but a group of maritime enthusiasts were determined the classic vessel would not join the scrap heap. They bought the Harvey at auction for $27,010, and turned her into a floating museum and tour ship. In 2000 the US Government placed her on the National Register of Historic Places.
Amazingly though, the 70 year old fireboat would see service again. During the September 11 terrorists attacks on the Worlds Trade Center, the Harvey was immediately placed into service evacuating refugees from the stricken Twin Towers. Bigger plans were in store for her as the fire and smoke raged toward the harbor. According to the Sept. 23, 2001 issue of the NY Times:
At first, they started ferrying ash-caked survivors away from the collapsed buildings. ”About 150 people just hurled themselves over the gunwales,” (co-owner Huntley F. Gill) said. ”Women were leaving their shoes behind.” But almost immediately, a call came in from the Fire Department. They desperately needed water pressure.
The John J. Harvey joined the city’s two active large fireboat’s and, lashed to the bulkheads at the World Financial Center, revved up the pumps to become a floating fire hydrant.
A lieutenant handed them a radio. ” ‘You guys are Marine 2,’ he told us,” Mr. Gill said. ”That was her old designation.”
After makeshift repairs to the aged vessel’s water pumps, the newly renamed “Marine 2” joined newer vessels battling the flames in New York Harbor, remaining on station from Tuesday until Friday. According to the National Parks Service website:
The fireboat joined New York Fire Department boats on the sea wall in North River, the closest proximity possible to World Trade Center 2, to provide the only water available at the site. Fire hoses wielded from the fireboat Wednesday provided the only area at the site that was not covered by choking dust. This area later became the main supply center for the emergency crews. The John J. Harvey worked non-stop at the site until Friday night, September 14, after hydrants had been restored. Countless friends and supporters made Harvey their base for volunteering in the emergency, working on shore on clean-up, rescue work and organization.
After this brief period of the old excitement, she returned to her duties as a museum ship. Again the John J Harvey was not to be forgotten. She received a special award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for her essential services during 9/11, and in 2002 a children’s book was written in her honor titled FIREBOAT: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. You can visit the official website of this truly historic vessel by clicking here.