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9/11-The Return of Marine 2

September 11, 2009
The fireboat John J. Harvey salutes m/v Norwegian Spirit. By Vidiot

The fireboat John J. Harvey salutes m/v Norwegian Spirit. By Vidiot

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.

National Register Photograph

National Register Photograph

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 12, 2009 5:23 pm

    I agree!

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    September 12, 2009 4:52 pm

    Amazing story, Mike. Thanks.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 12, 2009 12:16 pm

    All mistakes fixed now.

  4. September 12, 2009 11:00 am

    At least you gave credit to Power & Motor Yacht…but not to me, to whom the coplyright reverted a long time ago.
    PS: the fireboat in your photograph is NOT the John J. Harvey.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    September 11, 2009 6:17 pm

    @Hudson Words fail me. I still get very upset about that day. My thoughts are with all those suffered, and continue to suffer, because of those despicable events.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 11, 2009 12:02 pm

    Current events in the Potomac prove we are a nation still on edge. Thanks for the info Hudson!

  7. Hudson permalink
    September 11, 2009 10:26 am

    Thanks for posting this story, Mike. I was in the street several blocks from the WTC when the south tower collapsed, and was unaware of events on the waterfront, out of immediate sight.

    I can tell you that the John J. Harvey was berthed in a slip at the border of Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. In the park is a statue of John Ericsson holding a model of his invention, the Monitor. Also, inscribed on concrete slabs, are the names of the merchant seamen lost in WWII. A semi-crushed sphere sculpture rescued from the WTC is now on display in the park.

    I would like to mention that persons from at least 80 nations were among the 2,800 or so dead from the NY attacks; 300 Brits died, for example. It was, after all, the World Trade Center. In 1993, a truck bomb killed six people and injured 1,000 in the north tower.

    In consequence of the 9/11 attack, then-governor George Pataki asked the Navy to name a new fighting ship for the State of New York. The Navy agreed and built the USS New York (LPD-21), the fifth ship in the San Antonio class of amphibious transport dock. The Navy made an exception to the naming of all ships in that class for an American city. The ship was launched 12-20-07 and will be commissioned this November 7th. Seven tons of steel from the WTC were poured into the bow. I watched as those twisted beams were hauled off by flatbed truck in the days and weeks after the attack. Now they have been recast in a new role.

    The USCG maintains a station in New York harbor. The last time I looked, a cutter was anchored in the lower harbor just north of the Verrazano Bridge, protecting us. New York City remains a city under siege. Port security is an ongoing issue with local politicians and residents of the city. The motto of the USS New York is “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.”

    It’s a rainy day in NYC this morning, in stark contrast to the bright blue skies on that fateful day eight years ago.

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