After its launch in 1931, the John J. Harvey fireboat went on to serve the New York Harbor and the city of New York until 1994. The John J. Harvey was a technological marvel for its time, with powerful internal combustion engines, making her the fastest fire fighting boat of her time.
In September of 2001, following the collapse of the Twin Towers, the John J. Harvey was reactivated under her old designation: Marine Company 2. Alongside other FDNY fireboats, Harvey pumped water into the water mains of lower Manhattan until they became fully serviced. The work of the John J. Harvey went on to be documented in numerous articles and other publications.
The Montclair Dispatch spoke with David Grill, an organization trustee, about his connection to John J. Harvey and the fundraising efforts towards the boat’s restoration.
“John J. Harvey is a non-profit organization, which requires a board of trustees. I am a boater, and I was a firefighter many years ago.”
After “professionally retiring,” Grill was looking to get involved with the preservation of historic vessels. He found this particular boat and its mission on his own, and started volunteering. Additionally, Grill serves as one of the boat’s pilots, as he has an official Coast Guard license.
“John J. Harvey has great historical significance as the first fireboat built with internal combustion engines, beginning the transition away from the steam era. After her retirement in 1995, she was saved from the scrapyard in 1999 by a group of preservationists who repaired her and brought her back into service as a fully operational museum ship. On September 11, 2001, she was returned to active duty at the request of the FDNY and pumped water for 80 consecutive hours for the fire fighting operation at Grand Zero, winning congressional recognition for the effort. We, the volunteers who crew her and maintain her, believe that preserving this piece of history is important.”
Mr. Grill went on to speak to the mission of the boat’s upkeep.
“The overarching mission is to preserve a significant historical artifact for future generations. This is done by providing free public trips in the harbor for school and camp groups, visitors to New York City, and local residents. Many of our visitors have never been on the water and have never seen the city from its rivers. We participate in and add value to harbor festivals such as the City of Water Day, Fleet Week, and the annual North River Tug Race. We stress to our visitors the history of the harbor and make it a point to visit the industrial areas still active in the harbor. The power of the boat is demonstrated with water displays at significant spots such as the Statue of Liberty.”
David Grill and his fellow Harvey team members are extremely grateful for those who donate to the restoration cause.
“It is extremely expensive to run and maintain a 125 foot, 250-ton 89-year-old boat. Our only source of revenue is from donations; we do not charge for passage. All of our trips are free. The boat needs constant maintenance; much is done by our volunteers, but the ‘heavy stuff’ requires professionals at the shipyard. She needed $80,000 in shipyard work in 2019 which is being paid for when we can. Going forward, her four 4,000 GPM pumps will need to be dismantled and serviced. Her firefighting cannons all need to be dismantled and repacked to prevent leaks. This work, which will be scheduled as funds permit, will require multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of which need to come from donations. Fuel costs for a season of free trips range from $12,000 to $15,000 and purchasing paint is an annual event.”
The Montclair Dispatch also spoke with Scott Kennedy, CEO of Studio042, about the importance of the John J. Harvey.
“I have been out to the fireboat John J. Harvey when it is moored at Pier 66 Maritime in Manhattan on the West Side. I am sure they moor her there so that we in New Jersey can keep an eye on her. I was honored to be given the opportunity to tour the boat. I was very impressed to find a very committed and dedicated team of professionals and volunteers. The John J. Harvey is in capable hands with a seasoned board, and their hands on the wheel. This year’s fundraiser is very important. The required maintenance and supplies are not without significant costs. I urge everyone to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pilar and I in financially supporting the ship and her crew. David Grill, a trustee, has been instrumental in getting me out to Pier 66 and allowing me to crawl through the ship. Amazing!”
As we head into a new decade, the work to restore and maintain the John J. Harvey continues.
To donate, visit www.fireboat.org and click on ‘Make a Donation.’