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19 August 2001

On Voyage to Preserve Historic Vessels

by Claire Hughes, Staff writer

Fireboat "John J. Harvey," traveling up Hudson River, to be open for public tours.

KINGSTON -- When the fireboat John J. Harvey set off its guns early Saturday afternoon, eight arcs of Hudson River water sprayed wide and high to the tune of ``God Bless America'' and the cheers of 100-plus spectators on the shore.

It was a salute to the river, to the historic craft that travels it and to the preservation -- if only for a weekend -- of a slower-moving way of life. It was also just plain fun.

``You give us an excuse, we'll pump water,'' said David Beatty, one of fireboat's co-owners.

Beatty and seven others bought the John J. Harvey at public auction in 1999, saving the fireboat from the junk heap after 68 years of putting out blazes on and along the New York City waterfront. A total of 14 owners and crew members left New York City on Friday for a trip that stops in Albany today with the hopes of raising awareness of such historic vessels, especially among state legislators.

On Monday, the boat will travel to Troy, where it is scheduled to dock behind City Hall from 3 to 5 p.m. for tours and water displays. Visitors can ride the fireboat from Albany to Troy or from Troy to Albany -- but are asked not to make a round trip so that others can enjoy the ride.

Owners of the fireboat, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places last year, are making the tour of the Hudson River in hopes of getting the state to invest in boat-friendly piers and subsidize the docking of historic vessels at Hudson River Park in Manhattan, now under construction.

Other new piers in New York and New Jersey are built for sightseeing pedestrians, not boats, said Pamela Hepburn, a John J. Harvey co-owner.

Co-owner Huntley Gill said that was a shame. ``We lose all sense of what that waterfront was about,'' he said.

On Saturday, in the area of Kingston's waterfront known as the Rondout, few if any of the 200-plus visitors to the John J. Harvey were concerned about the vessel's New York City berth. They came to see a piece of history, to learn something new or even to revisit a family memory.

Irene Schweiger of Monroe was happy that new owners are maintaining the fireboat. Her late husband, Walter, was the John J. Harvey's fire chief in the 1980s, she said.

``Even after he retired, he used to worry about the boat,'' Schweiger said. ``He'd say, `I hope they're taking care of it.' And I used to say, `It's not your boat.' ''

Several others in the crowd came because husbands, fathers and grandfathers worked on New York fireboats -- perhaps on the John J. Harvey. There was also a big presence of local firefighters, many sporting department T-shirts. Kingston volunteer firefighter Cale Carr nearly drooled with envy over the John J. Harvey's eight on-deck water guns, which can shoot 18,000 gallons of water per minute, the equivalent of 20 firetrucks.

While no longer operating as a working fireboat, the John J. Harvey remains faster than any other fireboat while pumping water, Beatty said. But that speed tops out at about 24 mph.

Visitors roamed around the boat at will, climbing up to check out a water-gun deck or the captain's quarters or down to the engine room. Two octogenarians, Elaine Pollack and Elenore Hall, opted to stay on the main deck because the boat's stairs were too narrow and steep.

Beatty led tours Saturday. His tone was breezy and his timing casual, beginning more or less on the scheduled half-hour. Like the boat's other co-owners, he wore a red T-shirt that said ``Crew (really)'' on the back.

Casual was the tone of the whole boating party, whose backgrounds and professions don't suggest they should run the John J. Harvey. Among them were a real estate agent, business show producer and restaurateur.

Beatty said he simply couldn't refuse the chance to own part of the vessel. ``How often in your life does someone ask you to buy a fireboat?'' he said.

The crew departed Kingston Saturday, offering its water display as its finale.

Firefighter Cale Carr, with wife Connie and 2-year-old son Zachary, decided at the last minute to stay on board to Hudson.

``I sure hope we can get a train back,'' Connie Carr said.

FACTS:ALL ABOARD What: The John J. Harvey When: Noon to 4 p.m. today Where: Broadway and Quay Street, Albany, on the Hudson River Cost: Free Web: http://www.fireboat.org

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