Postcard depicting The New Yorker battling a ship fire.
The first fireboats
When the Metropolitan Fire Department was established in 1865, the fire commissioners expanded the Department’s ability to fight fires on the waterfront by obtaining a “floating engine.” The first fireboat, John Fuller, was actually a steam salvage tug the MFD leased from John C. Baxter & Son, dealers of ship and sailing supplies. John Fuller was leased on an as needed basis from 1865 to 1875, after which the Department bought its own boat, William F. Havemeyer. Before New York City was consolidated in 1898, the Brooklyn Fire Department leased a fireboat from the New York Fire Department, and built its own, Seth Low, in 1885. Until 1931, fireboats were steam driven. Due to high maintenance and fuel costs, a gasoline powered fireboat, John J. Harvey, was built and replaced the decommissioned The New Yorker. Diesel-electric fireboats soon followed - the first being Fire Fighter.
FROM ENGINE COMPANIES TO MARINE COMPANIES
Companies assigned to fireboats were designated engine companies and assigned to whichever battalion their boat was docked in. The men initially lived aboard the boats, which
served as their equivalent to a firehouse, and remained with the boat as it moved to different locations. The New Yorker, built in 1891 and assigned to Engine Co. 57, was the first fireboat to have a station house, which was located at the Battery. The FDNY’s fleet of fireboats was at its apex between 1908 and 1948 with ten manned fireboats. In June of 1959, the Marine Division was created and “Engine Company” designations were replaced with “Marine Company.” The Marine Division began with nine companies, plus a Tender and Special Unit Boat. Over time, marine companies have been decommissioned. Today, Marine Companies 1, 6, and 9 are still in service.
A NEW YORK LEGEND
Fire Fighter, one of the most well-known fireboats of the FDNY, was put on display at the 1939 World’s Fair and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. She was put into service in August of 1938, and served for more than seventy years, until she was decommissioned in 2010. This fireboat fought in some of the major fires and rescues in New York City. Most recently, Fire Fighter, alongside John J. Harvey - another fireboat with a long career - pumped water onto the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and, in 2009, Fire Fighter assisted passengers of Flight 1549 when it landed in the Hudson River.
INTERACTIVE GALLERY LINK
See the firefighters, boats, and equipment essential to the Department’s marine operations. More