The good ship Fire Fighter looks almost shipshape in its cozy new berth — or should we say rebirth — as Greenport’s first floating museum.
Relocated from New York City after its retirement in 2010, the 134-foot vessel, which saw action at Ground Zero on 9/11, impresses a pair of visitors who’ve just finished a tour below and above decks.
“I can appreciate a proud old boat like this,” says John Courtney, 42, a police officer visiting from Sante Fe, Texas, with his friend Lisa Lohman, 35.
Efforts to turn the recently declared national historic landmark into a tourist destination received a major boost last month with a $414,000 grant from New York State, says Charlie Ritchie, the museum’s president. The grant will help fund restoration projects, such as a much-needed haul-out to check for and repair any hull damage.
“We want to get it in the shipyard before the [summer] season starts, so we can do a lot more water displays,” Ritchie says. Demonstrations by the Fire Fighter’s eight water cannons — called “monitors” on board — were a hit last year and are planned for this year’s village maritime festival.
TAKING THE TOUR
Boarding the Fire Fighter feels a bit like stepping onto a vintage submarine. You’re surrounded by the inner workings of a tight ship, and need to keep your head down as you walk along narrow passageways.
Your reward is a rare look at a historic vessel on which 90 percent of the equipment is believed to be original. Ritchie, who was director of the Lilac, a U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse service vessel in Manhattan, serves as guide on this tour.
“This is old school now, but in 1938 it was cutting edge,” Ritchie says on a stop in the engine room, which can pump 5,000 gallons of water per minute.
The tour includes the wheelhouse, the “gold room,” where brass parts are stored, and the Bunk Room, where engineers slept while on round-the-clock duty.
A BLAZE OF GLORY
Built in the mid-1930s as the world’s first diesel-electric boat, the Fire Fighter was most active during the 1940s and ’50s. “It went through a lot of horrific fires before 9/11,” Ritchie says. On Sept. 11, 2001, alongside the John Jay Harvey and the John D. McKean, it pumped water to fight fires at Ground Zero, until city water mains were restored, and carried victims to safety. The Fire Fighter has had a brief screen career on TV shows such as FX’s firefighter comedy-drama, “Rescue Me.”
Ritchie plans to restore the vessel to its original condition according to national landmark guidelines. “We’re doing preservation/restoration, which means if something is functional and it’s original, we’re not going to change it. You want to preserve as much of the integrity as possible,” he explains.
Greenport mayor and local firefighter George Hubbard says he welcomes the addition to Greenport’s maritime attractions, which include waterfront restaurants, nautical shops, and charter and fishing boats.
Hubbard, who took the tour, says, “On top of the boat, you are up so high up, you can see half of the village.”