An ardent volunteer preserving an historic fireboat that served on 9/11 seeks to bring its story to Yonkers after recently being added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The New York City Fire Department christened the John D. McKean fireboat on March 19th 1954-her namesake honoring a Marine Engineer who lost his life in the line of duty the year prior. This 129-foot long, 31-foot wide and 335-ton fireboat proved its heroism and valor during 58 years of service.
In 1991, it displayed its firefighting prowess at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal fire. But, the vessel’s significance and necessity were again brought to bear during the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. It was critical in ferrying victims out of Manhattan. It also joined forces with other units to provide a crucial water supply to firefighters when water mains failed due to the collapse of the twin towers.
Its service extended beyond fighting fires as well. The John D. McKean played a pivotal role in the rescue of passengers from US Airways Flight 1549‘s emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009. This “Miracle on the Hudson” story was later dramatized in the 2016 Tom Hanks’ film, Sully.
Recognition it deserves
The NYFD retired The John D. McKean fireboat in 2010; replacing it with the Three Forty Three in honor of FDNY members lost on 9/11. The historic fireboat was then sold at auction in 2016 for $57,400. Edward Taylor and Michael Kaphan purchased the ship and formed the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project aimed at creating a floating museum. It’s docked in Stony Point in Rockland County and visitors may come aboard to learn of its history by appointment.
In recent years, the fireboat underwent major repairs both to the hull and a full restoration above deck. Over 20 regular volunteers contribute to the preservation project. And at least 25 thousand man-hours have been logged for this restoration and service. Most of this investment has all come out of pocket for those involved. And once the necessary repairs are complete to the engine, the fireboat will take trips up and down the Hudson River during seasonal months of April through October.
But, the group has also been lobbying for official designation as a historical moment to secure additional funding. Aided by political heavyweights like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) accepted the John D. McKean fireboat on its list on July 28th, 2023. It had received a similar state-level designation 0n December 8th, 2022. These designations ensure federal dollars for preservation and recognition as an important part of America’s history.
Anchors Aweigh to Yonkers
Speaking with David Rocco, Vice-President of the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project, he explained his desire to bring the fireboat to Yonkers. Himself being born and raised in the city, he said, “Yonkers is just a great spot. You can see the New York City skyline and the Palisades.” He named events like the upcoming Yonkers Riverfest as well as the fireboat taking aboard student passengers from the nearby Riverfront Library. Rocco noted that he has had preliminary talks with Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Steven Sansone, and Commissioner of the Planning Department, Lou Albano, last year. However, plans have yet to progress.
We reached out to the administration at the City of Yonkers to follow up on Mr. Rocco’s request to bring the John D. McKean fireboat to Yonkers. Director of Communications, Christina Gilmartin, issued a prompt response that, “The City Pier is under construction and no events are scheduled at this time.” While the pier may not be required for all events for the fireboat to be a part of, for now, Yonkers isn’t ready to celebrate with this historic vessel.
But, David Rocco is undeterred because he believes in the importance of this project. If for nothing else, he wants to make sure that, “younger generations never forget what happened on 9/11.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the John D. McKean fireboat, you can visit the foundation’s website at https://www.fireboatmckean.org. You can also contact the group to get your hands dirty and volunteer in keeping the ship operational. Or, simply provide a small monetary donation via their online Paypal link.