The fireboat that had served the City of New York for six decades was a reclamation project by Sept. 11, 2001, a floating museum lovingly restored by a merry band of boating buffs.
That morning it became a lifeboat and, then, a primary source of water to the burning ruins of the
Its legendary story of courage under fire has been told before, but never in the details provided Thursday by Chief Engineer Tim Ivory, who on that day 10 years ago took his crew of volunteer boating enthusiasts into the mouth of Hell. Amid the chaos, The John J. Harvey was given the equivalent of a battlefield commission, reactivated as "Marine 2" of the FDNY's storied fireboat fleet.
Long Islanders can see her this weekend: The Harvey is the centerpiece attraction of this weekend's in Oyster Bay, where an estimated 200,000 people will flock to the shores of the historic harbor for food, entertainment and a nautical lesson in gallantry.
"Everyone for days had the look of death on their face and I felt bad, out of place," said Ivory, 45, who restores boats for a living and spent four years as a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey."Many had lost people and I was one of the fortunate ones who didn't."
"But I realize now I was privileged to have been part of it," he said.
On Sept. 11, the Harvey was docked at a pier at West 63rd Street on the Hudson River when Ivory learned of the attacks. He raced to the fireboat and found his crew -- all volunteers and none of them professional firefighters -- already assembled and ready to launch.
Ivory fired up the Harvey's five diesel engines and got her under way toward Battery Park City. The South Tower had already collapsed and his intention was to ferry civilians to safety.
The fireboat arrived shortly after the collapse of the North Tower. He was greeted by 150 civilians covered in grey ash, who climbed aboard.
As the boat turned northward, Ivory saw a New York City firefighter on shore, waving at him.
"He had this empty look," Ivory said. "I realized then that some his friends were dead. He was covered in ash. He had the look of death on him."
That firefighter was Lt. Tom Whyte, the ranking fire officer on scene for the FDNY's Marine Division. He needed help and now.
Two city fireboats, the Fire Fighter and the John D. McKean, were positioned in the river, north and south of the collapsed towers, fighting the inferno from its perimeters, pumping water to extinguish the myriad blazes set off by flaming debris.
But Lt. Whyte needed a fireboat to pump water directly to Ground Zero. The water mains in lower Manhattan were largely inoperable following the collapses. Ivory shouted to Whyte that his fireboat was functional.
Whyte ordered the Harvey back in service. "Tom yelled to me: "Then, you're Marine 2!" Ivory said.
The Harvey was suddenly out of retirement, a nautical conscript in the largest rescue operation in New York's history.
Ivory transported his passengers to a pier in the West 40s and the Harvey returned to Battery Park City to begin operations. That proved more difficult than simply throwing some switches.
While her giant deck pipes could shoot streams of water high into the air, some of the Harvey's vital equipment had fallen victim to time. The Harvey was built in 1931, designed for a different age in waterfront firefighting. For example, her 3 1/2 inch- couplings were incompatible with the modern equipment used by today's fire departments.
Adjustments were made on the fly. Rusted valves were cracked open. The Coast Guard and others delivered diesel fuel, oil, and mechanical devices that could make the modern world literally link up with the past. In one instance, empty water bottles, positioned inside valves, served to bridge the measurement differentials.
The Harvey operated as a giant pumping station on the North River, pulling water through its hull and out to fire hoses stretching toward Ground Zero. In at least two instances, those lines were stretched into fire trucks that had been crushed from falling debris. Although ruined, the crippled trucks, in turn, fired water volleys at the burning rubble that firefighters would come to call "The Pile."
The Harvey worked this way for 80-straight hours as the nation responded to the attacks. Volunteers arrived from everywhere. Food and supplies were delivered. Manpower and equipment came on the run and in force. Ivory spoke fondly of the pizza and beer that found its way as if magically to his make-shift dock.
Mostly, he spoke of his crew, who worked tirelessly to do what ever they could. Like so many others in the months that followed the attacks, they were ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The crew is invited to many waterfront festivals, because people want to hear their story.
"It was such an honor to be there," Ivory said. "People come down to this boat to connect with that experience. A lot of people come down to thank us."
The Harvey is docked at the long pier off West End Avenue, a short walk from the food court at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park. She will be open for tours and demonstrations through the weekend.