History and historical photographs courtesy of Al Trojanowicz
In 1931 much was added to the New York scene, including John J. Harvey. She is in good company and shares a birthday with notable contemporaries like the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge. To this day, she is the harbor's fastest big fireboat and remains the senior in longevity.
Hers is a long story, and here we will tell some of it, as well as that of the Fire Department family and City she is such an integral part of.
Two of the most famous transatlantic liners were Normandie and Queen Mary. Remember that Harvey was on station to welcome them both when they came here brand new, and is still here long after they have left. Yes, hers is a Proud History.
Who Is John J Harvey?
John J. Harvey was the first New York City fireboat named after a member of the department. Firefighter John J. Harvey was pilot of the steam fireboat Thomas Willett, assigned to Engine Co. 86 at Bloomfield Street in lower Manhattan.
On February 11, 1930 a fire broke out in a cargo hold aboard the North German Lloyd Lines ship Muenchen, recently arrived at North River Pier 42, Morton Street.
Willett came alongside and her crew started working aboard the burning ship. The fire could not be contained and a series of massive explosions rocked Muenchen. The largest explosion sent a section of steel plate through the pilot house of Willett, killing Pilot Harvey instantly and sweeping his body into the North River from where it was recovered four hours later. Willett suffered serious damage and several firefighters were swept overboard by the explosion. All except for John J. Harvey survived the disaster.
A Firefighting Fireboat
Harvey's long life in the Port of New York includes service at hundreds of serious fires, explosions, and marine disasters.
One of the first was the five alarm fire that destroyed Cunard's Pier 54 at West 14th Street in May 1932. In 1942 Harvey worked at the fire that destroyed the French Line's Normandie, the grandest ocean liner ever built.
Driving the Boat / What's a 'Bell Boat'?
The fireboat Harvey is an engine room operated boat, one of the last left in this country. The common term for this arrangement is to call her a "bell boat". The Pilot at the helm, rings down his instructions using the engine order telegraphs. He can indicate both speed and direction ahead or astern direction for each of Harvey's two propeller shafts.
Down below, at the Engineer's station these instructions are displayed on two very similar telegraphs.