A Workhorse On The Hudson River, Now Retired From Fighting Fires, Chugs Towards A Second Act



On a gleaming Thursday morning in March, a candy red fireboat rattled awake and set forth from its station in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  As the ship voyaged north along the Hudson River at nine knots, it left more than half a century of history in its wake.

Since the 129-foot vessel, the John D. McKean, was commissioned into service in 1954, the sight of it on New York City’s waterfront has signaled some variety of peril — a smoldering warehouse, a capsized barge.

Last month, as the McKean pulled into the Tarrytown Marina, near the Tappan Zee Bridge in Westchester County, there were no flames beckoning its arrival, no emergencies at all.

The ship, decommissioned nearly six years ago, was beginning a new phase.  It was put up for sale, and after 158 bids, a pair of restaurateurs bought the McKean for $57,400 at an auction in which New York City also sold an array of surplus goods, including camcorders and file cabinets.  The boat originally cost the city $1,426,000.

The new owners, Michael Kaphan and Edward Taylor, hope to turn the boat into a museum of sorts that pays homage to its legacy.  If all goes as planned, the boat will be open for tours led by former firefighters by July 4.

“You can’t own something like this,” Mr. Taylor, 54, said as he walked along the port-side deck.  “It belongs to the city. We’re just the custodians.”

The McKean spent the past couple of years mostly dormant, though it was hauled out to help when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.  Even so, its new owners were surprised to discover that the McKean had remained largely intact.

“Everything still works, she just needs some lipstick,” Mr. Taylor said, revving up the twin 1,000-horsepower engines to a deafening rumble.

As he ascended from the bowels of the ship last week, Mr. Taylor marveled at its gadgetry and craftsmanship.  Six water cannons stood ready on the decks, their brass nozzles oxidized to the color of turquoise.  The phone connecting the wheelhouse to the engine room sprang to life with the turn of a crank.  A weather-beaten American flag, recovered from within the captain’s quarters, fluttered from a rope atop the watchtower.

Of the ship’s many treasures, Mr. Taylor took particular pride in a gift from the McKean family: a framed photograph of John McKean’s son and grandson in front of the craft, as well as a letter thanking him and Mr. Kaphan “for keeping the fireboat John D. McKean on the Hudson River where it has always been.”

Source: The New York Times


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