Fireboat that responded to 9/11 attacks makes national registry

The McKean Fireboat, which responded to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, recently joined the National Register of Historic Places, allowing the nonprofit that maintains the vessel to access more restoration funding.

For now, the fireboat is docked at the Panco Petroleum Co.’s dock in Rockland County’s Stony Point while volunteers continue their fundraising efforts to completely restore the vessel’s hull. Once that work is completed, the McKean Fireboat will have the ability to regularly travel the Hudson River and teach visitors about the history of fireboats and careers in the maritime industry.

David Rocco, vice-president of the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project, which bought the retired FDNY fireboat in 2016 at a surplus auction, says: “My ultimate goal is to present an opportunity for kids to maybe think about careers in the maritime industry.”

In the short term, the group hopes that temporary hull repairs will allow them to make a short voyage to the Haverstraw waterfront to participate in a September 11 ceremony. The McKean Fireboat is currently available for dockside tours to the public by appointment only.

The McKean Fireboat responded to calls during its nearly six decades of service, including the Staten Island Ferry’s Manhattan Terminal fire in 1991, the rescue and recovery operations during the terror attacks at the World Trade Center in 2001, and the “Miracle on the Hudson” river landing in 2009.

The fireboat’s responses to these emergencies cement its place in history, says Rocco, who is a native of Yonkers and Mount Vernon.

“When you talk about 9/11, that’s not just New York City history, that’s international history because of the implications of what happened that day and the people’s lives that the boat saved bringing them across the river from lower Manhattan to New Jersey,” says Rocco, noting the fireboat’s pivotal role in delivering water to firefighters after the terror attacks when fire hydrants around the World Trade Center were destroyed. “For the first 42 or 78 hours straight, these guys were pumping water out of the Hudson River.”

The fireboat is named after John D. McKean, a marine engineer in the New York City Fire Department who was burned by a live steam explosion aboard the George B. McClellan fireboat in 1953. Although fatally injured, McKean heroically remained at his post.

Despite the high-profile emergencies to which the fireboat responded, documenting the vessel’s history has been challenging. Rocco recalled the difficulty of finding historical records for the McKean Fireboat, which was built by the former John H. Mathis company based in Camden, N.J. Luckily, he discovered that the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia acquired the defunct shipbuilder’s records, allowing Rocco to establish the fireboat’s provenance and bona fides.

Rocco, a retired carpenter, is not new to embracing cultural causes. He helped to raise $8 million for the successful development of the Walkway Over the Hudson, a bridge converted into a pedestrian walkway that connects Poughkeepsie and Highland.

Rocco hopes to help people see the big picture. The fireboat, he says, can be a tourist attraction that teaches local communities as well as the maritime industry and history along the Hudson.


All photos by David Rocco.

About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue.

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