When the Fire Department City of New York christened its new fireboat William M. Feehan Friday, firefighter Robert Alexander was at the rail when his daughter Julie, 11, swung the champagne bottle.
The boat is named for the FDNY first deputy commissioner who was among 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001. The boat’s red painted nameplate was cut from steel out of the rubble pile.
FDNY officials say the boat is a living memorial to those lost that day – and others still paying the price. Last year Alexander, an assistant marine engineer who worked on the Feehan’s design committee, learned he had cancer, like many other first responders who searched for survivors.
“He was a giant of this department,” Alexander said of Feehan. “Today is a triumphant day for the fire department. It will probably be 20 years before you see a boat like this again.”
The 66’x18’x3’5” Feehan was built by MetalCraft Marine Inc., Kingston, Ontario, working closely with the FDNY’s marine division. Alexander and others applied the department’s long experience to every detail, in a process praised by both the firefighters and boat builders.
“They’re probably the single greatest group of guys we’ve ever worked with,” said Bob Clark, MetalCraft’s contracts manager.
That process got into deep details of quality and cost.
“It wasn’t unlimited money. But the things they wanted were all unique, high quality,” Clark said of the $4.7 million boat, funded primarily through federal grant money.
Compromises were judicious. For example, with the boat’s pricey protective options against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, firefighters chose reduced detection capability in favor of greater crew protection, Clark said.
There was no skimping on the boat’s piping systems. “There’s not a single coupling in the boat. They’re all faced flanges,” Clark said. The group insisted on high quality valves. “If anything freezes up, you’ll be able to take it apart,” he said.
“The development of the boat just got better and better,” Clark said. “It is, bar none, the best boat we have built.”
In the engine room there is standing headroom, and a trio of Caterpillar C-18 engines rated at 1,150 hp each, driving Hamilton HJ 403 waterjets with hoods connected by a ZF 665 transmission. That kicks the boat’s top speed up to 41 knots, from a cruise speed of 32 knots.
A Cat C-9 engine rated at 510 hp drives the fire pump system, which includes two Darley ZSP models pushing 3,000 gpm at 150 psi that can dispense foam to one or both pumps. Up top is a Stang fire monitor mounted on the roof with remote controls, shooting 5,000 gpm at 80 psi.
On deck, four Elkhart Brass Spit-Fire monitors – two electrically controlled on the bow, two operated manually amidships – put out 2,000 gpm at 80 psi each. For waterfront firefighting operations there are two Storz 6” land supply connections.
In the cabin, Capt. Lou Guzzo of FDNY Marine Company 6 and his crew showed off features the design team hashed out for specific needs and missions. The forward berthing area is set up for casualty care, with patient berths and everything emergency medical technicians would need. Likewise there is space for search and rescue dive equipment; the stern of the boat is stepped for divers’ ease of access.
The wheelhouse panel has the integrated Furuno TZ Touch suite of radar, GPS and chartplotters, and linked to the FLIR Voyager III thermal imaging night vision atop the house. It even has Simrad side scan sonar for searching the harbor bottom with a towable transponder.
“The air boxes face inboard because of the work we do,” to keep spray out of the engine intakes, said Michael Buckheit, the FDNY’s chief of marine operations. The decks are heated, so the four-man crews can safely get around in freezing conditions.
With the waterjet propulsion and 41” draft, firefighters can get into tight quarters close to shore and the flats around Kennedy International Airport, Buckheit said.
Pilots like the boat for speed and smooth handling.
“She’s pretty quick. She slides through the gears smoothly. It’s a pleasure to drive,” said Bill Hannan, a recently retired FDNY pilot who put the boat through paces on Lake Ontario. “With three jets, it’s very maneuverable.”
“It does close to 40 knots” even fully loaded, said pilot Richie Borkowski.
The firefighters said MetalCraft accommodated late changes more than once. The bases of the Shox crew seats had to be reworked several times, and pilots changed their preferences for the instrument panel, moving screens around and switching the docking joystick to the center of the panel.
“We totally customized this boat. There’s nothing like this boat,” Hannan said. “MetalCraft was very accommodating.”
Fourteen years on, the catastrophe of 9/11 was very much present in the crowd at the South Street Seaport dock on the East River. The piece of World Trade Center steel carved into the Feehan’s nameplate “is the most important part of that boat,” department Chief James Leonard said.
Leonard and Alexander urged the audience to press lawmakers to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named for one of those responders who died after a sudden onset of lung cancer. The law was passed in 2010 to help diagnose and treat those suffering from toxic exposures at the World Trade Center site -- including an estimated 4,000 cancer victims -- but expired Sept. 30.
William M. Feehan. Feehan family photo via 9/11 Memorial.Feehan, 71 when he died, had a legendary career as the only New York firefighter to serve in every rank – from his days with Ladder Company 3 in the East Village, to chief of department and finally first deputy commissioner.
He was in a strictly administrative role at the department, but raced to the World Trade Center with everyone else.
“He didn’t have to. At 71 years of age his days of firefighting were behind him,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “Bill was a legend in the FDNY, an incredible mentor and leader to all of us in the department.”