When a firefighter retires, they may get a gold watch and have a nice party, but with more than 70 years of service in New York Harbor, the Fire Fighter fireboat is not your typical retiree.
Built in 1938 and decommissioned in 2010, the 347-ton Fire Fighter was New York City’s longest-serving fireboat. Having been acquired by the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, it was recently moved to Greenport, where it will be restored and preserved as a floating museum.
“It’s a great fit for Greenport,” said Ron Breuer, president of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation. “It’s an historic landmark, and we want to maintain it and get restoration going.”
The Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, which is a New York State charted museum, acquired the boat in October of 2012. “I started sending inquiry letters to the fire department in the spring of 2010,” said Charlie Ritchie, the museum’s president and director. “They wanted somebody to preserve it. There are a lot of people out there who would love to turn it into a yacht or a bar, so they were definitely vetting us to see what we were going to do.” Once the museum acquired the boat, the hunt was on to find a place to keep it.
“The boat was docked as reserve in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when we took it over,” said Jeff Jonap, director of operations at Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum. “We asked everybody in the city, but nobody
After writing letters and attending meetings all over New York and Long Island, the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum found Greenport Harbor and the Maritime Museum, where they were greeted with open arms.
“This was, by far, the most welcoming and the smoothest for us,” Ritchie said. “The other places in New York City were a lot more tricky, political and expensive.”
The Maritime Museum intends to add a fireboat exhibit to their collection, and move the boat to the railroad dock, which is adjacent to the museum building. “We’re going to help them get established here in Greenport, run the tours for them, and help with the fundraising,” Breuer said.
“It’s a good place to be, because we’ll get all of the traffic from the museum, the railroad, and the Jitney,” Jonap said. “The first thing they’ll see from the ferry is this monster.”
Despite having been in active service for the better part of a century, the majority of the ship is in its original condition. “Everything on this boat is from 1938—good, bad or indifferent,” said Jonap, who is a steam-engineer by trade. “It has to go into dry-dock, because the bow has to be scraped and checked for leaking rivets, and the bottom needs to be sandblasted.”
The Fire Fighter is slated to go into dry-dock for a week in June, but it will be on hand for a water display in Greenport Harbor during their Memorial Day celebration.
“Right now, we do dockside tours and water displays,” Ritchie said. “We don’t want to take anyone on board until after we do our shipyard work, because then we’ll know that things are sound.”
The majority of the restoration work will be done by volunteers. “My thing is volunteering and drawing youth into working on this vessel,” said Ritchie, whose background is in experiential-education and recreation. “We’ve worked with kids from New York City, and inside of an hour shown them how to chip paint and use a grinder. You have an unbelievable workforce in kids.”
Once the boat is presentable, the museums plan to have tours, host parties and special events, and possibly use it for training purposes. “We hope to keep intact the history that’s attached to New York City and 9/11,” Ritchie said. “This boat is so well-loved by the people, and if we need to go back for special events in the city, then we’ll do that.”
“It’s a running historical record of the New York City Fire Department Marine Bureau,” Jonap said. “As a national historic landmark, you don’t want to see it sitting in a dry dock somewhere withering away.”
For more information about the Fire Fighter or to volunteer, visit Fireboatfirefighter.org.