'America's Fireboat' eyeing New London as summer home

New London — Fire Fighter, the 80-year-old retired firefighting boat that spent seven decades protecting New York Harbor and now serves as a floating museum, is eyeing New London as its summertime home.

Members of the New London Port Authority have extended an offer to what has been dubbed “America’s Boat,” to leave its berth at the Greenport Commercial Pier in Greenport, N.Y., to become an attraction at City Pier. The nonprofit group that runs the museum has agreed.

There’s just one problem.

New London Port Authority Chairman Ken Edwards said the boat’s arrival in New London is being delayed by maintenance issues. The nonprofit that runs the museum is looking for someone with the knowledge to work on its massive twin 1,500-horsepower, 16-cylinder diesel-electric motors.

“Right now they are skeptical they can get here under their own power,” Edwards said.

It’s an approximately 30-mile journey.

“I am hoping that some publicity to the problem may generate the interest of an experienced qualified mechanic,” Edwards said.

The boat was a hit at last year’s Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival. Edwards said it could again become a major attraction at the city’s waterfront, with its working water cannons and free tours.

In Greenport, the Fire Fighter is open for weekend tours conducted by its volunteer staff. A representative from the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum was not immediately available to comment.

“Designed by renowned naval architect William Francis Gibbs in 1938, Fire Fighter was built from the keel-up as a modern engineering marvel, capable of pumping 20,000 gallons of water per minute to nine topside fire monitors and powered by one of the first diesel-electric powerplants ever fitted to a vessel of her size,” reads the museum’s website, americasfireboat.org. “Her design was so advanced and performance so impressive that throughout her entire 72-year active career, Fire Fighter remained in an essentially unchanged operational condition, outlasting all of her contemporaries and even the majority of the FDNY fireboats half her age.”

The boat was decommissioned in 2010, turned into a museum in 2012 and relocated to Greenport, N.Y., in February 2013.

During its years of frontline active service, the Fire Boat was involved in numerous maritime emergencies and called in to more than 50 major multi-alarm fires. It took the lead in the FDNY Marine Unit response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11, 2001, where it supplied water to emergency crews fighting fires at ground zero. It’s been honored as the Queen of the FDNY Marine Unit Fleet, a Gallant Ship Award and is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s a really cool vessel with a long, distinguished history,” Edwards said. “We think exposure in New London can keep restoration efforts going in the right direction and generate activity on our waterfront.

While in New London it would not only be open for tours but also available for interpretive programs for groups such as scouts, schools and summer camps, Edwards said.

g.smith@theday.com

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