The New York City Fire Department was organized in 1865 as the city grew beyond the ability of the volunteer firemen and their equipment to protect it. Soon after this organization, it was obvious that waterfront fire protection in the form of fireboats would be necessary. Three important factors contributed to make fireboats possible. First, the advances in steam propulsion and pumping technology made building such boats practical; the ability of the paid Fire Department with its municipal budget made them affordable; but most important was the value of waterfront facilities, shipping, and commerce that demanded protection from fire. This was not only a local economic issue, for the nation's, if not the world's, commerce was established in the Port of New York.

Willets Smith Working

As boats were added the organization of the fireboats became the responsibility of the Marine Division, under the command of Chief Officers. Today there are nine firefighting Divisions in FDNY to administer the usual land Engine and Ladder Companies "up the street".  Unlike the land units, the Marine Division has responsibilities in addition to the day to day administration and firefighting supervision.

The Marine Division also orders all necessary supplies for the boats, issues contracts and specifications for new construction or shipyard overhauls, and coordinates operations and training with other agencies like the Coast Guard and NYPD Harbor Unit. The Marine Repair Shops has the ability to handle all but the heaviest repairs on our boats, and also provides supervision when fireboats are placed in private shipyards. The Marine Chiefs and Officers are experts in marine firefighting and supply a vital liaison with the Chief in Charge at major disasters. Marine Division Headquarters and the Marine Repair Shops are located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Crews of fireboats are set up differently than a usual fire company. For the firefighting complement, there is a Fire Officer: Lieutenant or Captain in charge. He is in charge of firefighting operations and supervises the firefighters aboard. This crew can be augmented when other firefighters from land companies are brought aboard.

Pilot at telegraphCrews of all fireboats also include a Pilot and the required number of Marine Engineers. These are promotional ranks from firefighters who pass the Fire Department examination. More importantly, Pilots and Engineers must qualify for and maintain a current license for their class of vessel issued by the United States Coast Guard. The federal government, through the US Coast Guard, holds Pilots responsible for the proper operation of their vessel. In an underway or firefighting operation the Fire Officer may suggest to the Pilot what course to take or where to position the boat but the final authority rests with the Pilot. Theirs is a shared responsibility conducted with a mutual sense of teamwork. The common goal of both is to get the job done quickly, safely, and efficiently. In non-FDNY vessels, what we refer to as the Pilot is known more familiarly as the Captain.

At the Stand 2Marine Engineers are licensed personnel, and are responsible for maintaining and operating the engines and all auxiliary equipment aboard. Any emergency repairs must be handled instantly for it would not do for a fireboat to break down. At times the engineers have had to perform these duties under the most difficult conditions, but they have been frequently commended for staying at their posts "down below" no matter what.

From the steam tug John Fuller in 1866 with a pumping capacity of 2000 gpm through John J Harvey in 1931 with a pumping capacity of 18,000 gpm to Three-Forty-Three and Fire Fighter II in 2010 with a pumping capacity of 50,000 gpm the FDNY has had thirty-six fireboats plus small fast rescue boats.  A full list of the boats with their specifications can be found here.