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Preserving History on the Hudson: Fireboat with Storied Past Will Soon Welcome Visitors Aboard

Preserving History on the Hudson: Fireboat with Storied Past Will Soon Welcome Visitors Aboard

Marine firefighting may not be as well known as its land-based cousin — but that may change in Stony Point, where the decommissioned FDNY Fireboat John D McKean will soon allow visitors to come on board and learn about its storied history. 

“It’s a fascinating boat,” says David Rocco, who is a photographer and now vice president of the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project. 

Departing Panco Pier in Stony Point, NY

Rocco is deeply interested in the ship’s history. First launched as a state-of-the-art fireboat in 1955 and named for a marine engineer who died on duty two years earlier, the ship saw service for over five decades — most notably in the 1991 Staten Island Ferry terminal fire, the 9/11 attacks, and in 2009’s famous “Miracle on the Hudson” landing. 

On 9/11, Rocco explains, the McKean joined a massive call for ships that helped to evacuate an estimated 500,000 people by water from lower Manhattan — largely to Jersey City, Staten Island, and Brooklyn — and also helped firefighting efforts in Lower Manhattan.  

“When the second tower collapsed,” says Rocco, “they were unloading people in New Jersey, so when they got back to the Manhattan waterfront, the order came down to tie up and start pumping water out of the Hudson River.” Hoses were meticulously laid so water could be supplied to needed sites several blocks away. 

In 2009, its role was also critical. After US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the middle of the Hudson River, the McKean arrived to help. The plane, says Rocco, was strapped to the boat, which helped to prevent it from sinking as it took on water. 

While the McKean’s days of firefighting are over, its public role continues. As one of only eight fireboats across the country to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the McKean has the potential to introduce a new generation to the marine industry, while teaching them about its role in New York City’s history. 

Finding a home has been a challenge, but for the time being, Panco Petroleum Co in Stony Point has provided a needed shelter. Rocco emphasizes the importance of securing funding to help shoulder the substantial burden of upkeep.  

“I just hope there’s somebody out there that finds a project like this dear to their heart, because that’s usually how it is,” he says. 

To make the McKean’s story as accessible as possible, Rocco says they hope to open the boat this spring for tours (some last-minute adjustments, like modifying the ramp, must be made). Further down the road, there are plans to hopefully tour the Hudson Valley, as well as spend time in New York City, to spread the story more widely — particularly as the boat approaches the 70th anniversary of its construction in 2024. 

“It’s important to preserve history like this,” Rocco says. “People have short memories.” 

Visitor information will be available via the website: 

Photos by David A. Rocco

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