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Famous fire boat arrives for Oyster fest

Oyster Bay’s Daniel Walker sat in a patio chair on the stern of the John J. Harvey as it barreled through the Long Island Sound from Bridgeport to Oyster Bay Harbor. The 65-year-old, a volunteer painter on the ship, took it all in, proud of the Harvey’s 80-year history and that it would be featured at the 2011 Oyster Festival.

The boat arrived in Oyster Bay Thursday morning. It was commissioned for the FDNY in 1931 and engaged many famous fires during its 63-year career, including the burning of the Normandie in 1942 and the El Estero, an ammunition ship docked in Bayonne during World War II. The 130-foot, 268-ton ship’s most well-known firefight came after her 1994 retirement, when her owners made the boat available to the FDNY during the Sept. 11 terror attacks. After the ship evacuated 150 people off of Manhattan, FDNY officials radioed for the Harvey’s assistance at the scene, according to Tim Ivory, 45, of Kingston, one of the ship's 16 owners.

Equipped with seven water cannons and a separate engine to power them, the Harvey was designed to throw 18,000 gallons of water a minute, making it one of the most powerful fire boats ever in service, according to John J. Harvey Ltd., the not-for-profit dedicated to education and preservation of the boat. The attacks had damaged the water mains at Ground Zero, leaving firetrucks with little water. The Harvey spent 80 hours at Ground Zero pumping millions of gallons of water from the Hudson River to the trucks.

Walker said the story struck a chord with him, so he arranged to have it on display during the festival to commemorate Sept. 11’s 10th anniversary. Question and answer sessions and tours will be available during the festival, along with displays of the water cannons’ power.

“I had a dream to get this boat to the Oyster Festival because of the historic significance of it,” said Walker, who painted the name plate on the boat’s bow earlier this week.

Ivory and Walker got a taste of the reaction they are hoping for this weekend while in Bridgeport Tuesday morning. A 7-year-old boy, known only to Ivory as Jimmy, was walking with his mother when she spotted the Harvey. Jimmy had read “Fireboat,” a children’s book about the Harvey by Maira Kalman, before his mother said he went blind from eye cancer. When his mother told Ivory and Walker about Jimmy’s love of the ship Walker lifted him aboard and Ivory invited him him to use his ears, hands and even his nose to experience the ship.

“It was just a dream for him to be on this boat,” Walker said.

“He’ll remember what engine room smells like,” Ivory added. “It was the highlight of his day.”


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