‘America’s fireboat’ celebrates 85 years after storied career battling blazes, protecting US homeland

“Fire Fighter” is a heroic defender of the American homeland.  

The “most storied fireboat in U.S. history” served the nation in some of its darkest hours, from the Great Depression and World War II to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the War on Terror that followed. 

“Fire Fighter” today is a National Historic Landmark and the centerpiece of The Fire Boat Fire Fighter Museum at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. 


Supporters, patriots, tourists and local firefighters celebrate her 85th birthday on Saturday, while the floating museum seeks benefactors and volunteers help keep this eyewitness to history afloat to teach future generations about our national heritage. 

“It’s a unique piece of Americana and a working piece of American history,” museum board member James Tomes told Fox News Digital. 

Tomes is the president and CEO of Telgian Holdings Inc. of Phoenix, one of the nation’s leading fire-protection agencies, and an American history enthusiast. 

“Her technology was state of the art,” he added. “If there was a fire tomorrow, that ship could respond.”

 “If there was a fire tomorrow, that ship could respond.” — James Tomes

“Fire Fighter” served the New York City Fire Department from 1938 to 2010. 

“But she’s truly America’s fireboat,” said Tomes. 

Fire Boat Fire Fighter Museum

She suppressed fires aboard munitions ships in New York Harbor in World War II, preventing explosions that threatened to flatten America’s largest city, while Nazi U-boats lurked offshore. 

“Fire Fighter” spent three weeks pouring water on the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 ruined downtown Manhattan’s fire hydrant system. 


And in a final remarkable life-saving act late in her career, “Fire Fighter” rushed to the aid of passengers and crew aboard US Airways Flight 1549 when it crash-landed in the Hudson River in 2009. 

“She was witness to at least 50 fires,” museum director Charlie Ritchie told Fox News Digital during a tour of the fireboat.

“Fire Fighter” was born to make history. 

"Fire Fighter: in action

“The first diesel-electric fireboat, she was such an engineering marvel when she went into service the following year she went on display at the New York World’s Fair in 1939,” the museum website states.  

“For a period of 65 years (she) held the title of World’s Most Powerful Fireboat.”

“For a period of 65 years (she) held the title of World’s Most Powerful Fireboat.”

Her dual-power technology was similar to that found only on submarines at the time. 

The 1939 World’s Fair, meanwhile, proved a portent of the world to come. Many of the inventions that changed society in the 20th century were displayed for the first time to a widespread audience at the event in New York City. Most notable among them: television.

The latest technology in battling fire was also on the display, too — in the form of “Fire Fighter.”

"Fire Fighter" throttle

She proved the right boat at the right time. “Fire Fighter” and her crew quickly earned a reputation for valor during World War II. 

New York Harbor sits in the heart of America’s largest city and in World War II was the key port of departure for troops, equipment and weapons heading to Europe. 


The harbor was a powder keg of cargo ships loaded with explosives. 

One of them, the SS El Estero, caught fire on April 24, 1943, soon after it was loaded with nearly 1,400 tons of munitions. 

"Fire Fighter" landmark plaque

“This was a secret dock that the government didn’t want anyone to know about,” said Ritchie. 

Officials quickly realized that New York Harbor was facing the very real possibility of a catastrophic explosion that might kill tens of thousands of people in the densely packed communities on both sides of the harbor.

“If the ship had exploded, it would have created a domino effect that would have set fire to the pier, set fire to the train cars and the other ships,” said Ritchie.

“The munitions experts at the time think if it had all happened that it would have … leveled Lower Manhattan, lower Brooklyn and New Jersey in that area.” 

"Fire Fighter" in Mystic, Conn.

“Fire Fighter” responded with fellow FDNY fireboat “John J. Harvey.”

The fireboats and their crews, along with those manning tugboats and Coast Guard vessels, guided the burning vessel out past the entrance of New York Harbor despite a risk of imminent death. 

“On that day it’s my feeling that the ‘Harvey’ and the ‘Fire Fighter’ saved New York City.” — Charlie Ritchie

The El Estero was scuttled upon order of the U.S. Navy.

“On that day it’s my feeling that the ‘Harvey’ and the ‘Fire Fighter’ saved New York City,” said Ritchie.

She responded to the second alarm on 9/11, Ritchie added. 

“Her crew watched the second plane hit the South Tower on the way across the harbor.”

“Fire Fighter” rescued 15 people in the Hudson River, then spent three weeks pouring water onto the “inferno,” Ritchie said, at Ground Zero, at one point pumping onto the devastation for 80 straight hours.

“As a nation we’re arguing over our history right now,” said Tomme, the museum board member. 

“I love our history. I love our country. If anything, I think the history of this boat is something we can all celebrate and that it’s worth saving.”

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