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Born-Again Hero Page 2

Born-Again Hero
Part 2: A hero on the waterfront for decades

By Roy Attaway — February 2002
   
 


 More of this Feature

• Part 1: John J. Harvey
• Part 2: John J. Harvey
• Part 3: John J. Harvey


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Originally powered by gasoline engines, the Harvey was refitted in 1957 with five Fairbanks-Morse diesels, each with 16 pistons opposed in eight cylinders and rated at 600 hp. The four outboard engines are hooked to LeCourtenay centrifugal pumps drawing water through individual sea chests and to a generator; the fifth centerline engine powers two generators. Propulsion is provided by two electric motors turning three-bladed props six feet in diameter.

The Harvey had been a hero of the waterfront for decades. She was called to a five-alarm fire on February 9, 1942, that destroyed Pier 54 when the Normandie, one of the most opulent cruise liners of her day, caught fire while undergoing conversion to a troop carrier. The Normandie capsized at her berth and was later scrapped. She also fought fires aboard the munitions ship El Estero in 1943 and tankers Alva Cape and Texaco Massachusetts, when the two collided in 1966, for which action her crew was cited for valor.

Eventually the grand old boat became superannuated, and in 1994 the Harvey was officially retired. In 1999 she was put on the auction block, the expectation being that she would be dismantled for scrap.

Enter Gill and Welles, both smitten with the water and with a particular fondness for older watercraft. Encouraged by John Krevey, owner of Pier 63 and the retired lightship Frying Pan, Gill and Welles, together with restaurateur Florent Morrelet, formed a corporation and bought the fireboat for $27,010 at auction. The deal was consummated on Feb. 11, 1999--69 years to the day after John J. Harvey was killed. There are now about a dozen shareholders, and nearly $200,000 has been poured into her restoration.

For several years the Harvey has been a floating museum (she is listed with the National Register of Historic Places), making weekend excursions and hiring out occasionally to supply celebratory water displays. Passengers are welcome. The trip is free--under Coast Guard regulations she is licensed for private use--although donations are welcome.

Then came September 11.

Welles was on his way to work in White Plains, New York, when he heard radio accounts of an airplane slamming into the World Trade Center. He called the office of the fire commissioner in New York City. Would it be helpful if they brought the Harvey down? The answer was yes.

Welles began calling Gill, who had turned off his telephone. Finally he called a friend who rushed over to Gill's West Side apartment. Gill was awake, watching television. Welles also called Ivory, a diesel mechanic and the Harvey's chief engineer. The three converged on the Harvey's berth at Pier 63 at the end of West 23rd Street, were joined by Cavallero (an artist and art dealer) and Furber (an ex-dot-commer and welder), and were underway shortly. They arrived at the Battery less than 10 minutes after both towers had collapsed. Already on station were the NYFD fireboats Fire Fighter and McKean.

Next page > Part 3: Marine Two > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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