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Gibbs' Fire Fighter, America’s Fireboat, Celebrates 80th Anniversary with Rechristening

The Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum in Greenport, Long Island recently celebrated the William Francis Gibbs-designed vessel's 80th birthday with a variety of festivities — including a rechristening of the ship by Gibbs' granddaughter, SS United States Conservancy Executive Director Susan Gibbs.

The three-day birthday celebration from August 24th to 26th included water displays by Fire Fighter in Greenport harbor, a fire truck muster by the Eastern Long Island Antique Fire Apparatus Association, free tours of the vessel, fire department and Coast Guard demonstrations and the rechristening ceremony.

Conservancy Executive Director Susan Gibbs rechristens the fireboat Fire Fighter on Sunday, August 26th, as part of the vessel's weekend-long birthday celebration in Greenport, Long Island.

Photograph by Jeremy Garretson for The Suffolk Times.

In addition to Susan Gibbs, speakers on August 26th included Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum President/Executive Director Charlie Ritchie, New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Southold Town Supervisor Kenneth Russel, Chief William Siegel of the FDNY and Dennis McDonnell of Gibbs & Cox — the firm responsible for the design of Fire Fighter, as well as the SS United States.

During his remarks, McDonnell emphasized the level of innovation behind the design of the fireboat, including a sophisticated electrical propulsion system well ahead of its time. He also elaborated upon the visionary leadership of William Francis Gibbs, stating:

"Though the FDNY fleet [in the 1930s] was considered capable of handling any peacetime fire, noted naval architect William Francis Gibbs recognized that the looming war in Europe and likelihood that New York would once again be a major supply port for friendly nations highlighted the need for a modern and more powerful fireboat to protect the harbor."

In McDonnell's concluding remarks, the marine mechanical designer returned to the core values that typify the work of Gibbs & Cox to this day:

"Innovation, inspiration and determination — the formula of the success story for not only this marvelous and historic fireboat, but for our country."

At the Conservancy, we are so thrilled to have been included as part of this special anniversary event. The preservation of Fire Fighter by the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum is nothing short of extraordinary; thanks to their hard work and dedication, "America's Fireboat" will endure for generations to come. Today, we hope you'll join us in the fight to ensure the same bright future for another iconic Gibbs-designed vessel — America's Flagship, the SS United States.

Conservancy Executive Director Susan Gibbs speaks aboard the fireboat Fire Fighter at a pre-christening event on Saturday, August 25th. Photograph courtesy of Susan Gibbs.

The powerful pumps of the Gibbs-designed fireboat Fire Fighter are still functional to this day. Here, the vessel shows off during her 80th birthday celebration in Greenport, Long Island.

Photograph by Jeremy Garretson for The Suffolk Times.


Interested in learning more about Fire Fighter? Read on:

As reported by The Independent prior to the vessel's anniversary event:

"Fire Fighter was active with the New York City Fire Department from 1938 to 2010, the year FDNY decommissioned and retired the ship. In 2012, ownership of Fire Fighter was transferred to the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the ship as a fully operational vessel, memorial, and teaching museum. She was then relocated to Greenport in February 2013 and docked next to the North Ferry, where she’ll live out her golden years.

In her prime, Fire Fighter’s crew fought over 50 major fires, including fires aboard the SS Normandie, El Estero, Esso Brussels, and Sea Witch, as well as several dozen major pier fires throughout New York Harbor. In perhaps her greatest single contribution to New York City, Fire Fighter led the FDNY Marine Unit response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 by supplying water to emergency crews fighting fires at Ground Zero. She spent three weeks pumping at maximum capacity while her crew sought out damaged, but still-operational pumpers to use as inland pumping stations among the ruin of the Twin Towers. The ship was only released from her station at the foot of Albany Street in the Battery when enough landside water mains had been repaired to support the firefighting efforts.

Fire Fighter is the only fireboat to have received the Gallant Ship Award since its establishment in 1944. She is a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

A video tribute to Fire Fighter by filmmakers Judy Hole and Noah Therrien; narrated by Charles Osgood.

The Independent continues:

"Gibbs, a renowned naval architect, built Fire Fighter from the keel up. She is capable of pumping 20,000 gallons of water per-minute to nine topside fire monitors and was powered by one of the first diesel-electric powerplants ever fitted to a vessel of her size. Her design was so advanced and performance so impressive, that throughout her entire career, Fire Fighter remained in an essentially unchanged operational condition. She outlasted all of her contemporaries and even the majority of FDNY fireboats half her age."


With your support, we're striving to secure a bright future of our nation's greatest and sole remaining ocean liner, the SS United States. In the meantime, the SS United States Conservancy is also hard at work preserving and celebrating the legacy of this extraordinary vessel through our curatorial initiatives and educational outreach.

Stay up to date on all of the Conservancy's exciting upcoming events by following us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribing to the Conservancy's e-newsletter.

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