Born-Again Hero

Born-Again Hero
A 70-year-old veteran comes out of retirement to help in the World Trade Center disaster.

By Roy Attaway — February 2002

 More of this Feature

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

 Related Resources
• Feature Index

From the deck of the John J. Harvey, southern Manhattan looked oddly gap-toothed. Gone were the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, replaced by a pall of dense smoke. The Harvey is a fireboat, and she was about to participate in one of the greatest fire and rescue operations in American history. The difference was that the Harvey was officially retired, her crew entirely amateur.

The waters on that bright, warm September morning were a maelstrom churned by heavy traffic, requiring absolute concentration on the part of her pilot, Huntley Gill. Beside him stood Chase Welles and Tomas Cavallero. Below decks, in the engine room, were Tim Ivory and Andrew Furber. As they approached the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, they saw thousands crowding the verge as watercraft ranging from heavily bearded tugs to party boats butted the seawall and took on evacuees. It was a modern-day Dunkirk.

To firemen who had survived the terrorist attacks, the Harvey must have seemed an apparition, an old warrior coming out of the mists of memory to do battle one more time. That she was there at all is a credit to devotion, luck, and determination.

Based on the naval architecture of Henry J. Gielow, the John J. Harvey was launched on October 6, 1931, at the Todd Shipbuilding and Drydock Corporation in Brooklyn. She had been commissioned by the City of New York and was named for the pilot of the fireboat Thomas Willett, killed when the liner Muenchen exploded at North River Pier 42 on February 11, 1930. She is 130 feet overall with a beam of 28 feet and a draft of 9'0". Able to exceed 18 knots, she weighs 268 gross tons and cost $594,000 to build.

Her design is classic: a plumb-bowed steamboat-like steel hull with graceful sheer sweeping back to an elliptical stern, surmounted by an upright pilothouse. She carries eight deck pipes ("monitors" or water cannons): one at the bow, two above the pilothouse, two on a platform abaft the boat deck, and three on a platform aft. The largest deck pipes have a capacity of 3,000 gpm. Together all eight can discharge 18,000 gpm, equal to 24 fire engines. The pressure is sufficient to send water over the roadway of the George Washington Bridge.

Next page > Part 2: A hero on the waterfront for decades > Page 1, 2, 3

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

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