Former FDNY boat under fire

By David M. Schwartz New York Newsday

Handlers of a 1938 FDNY fire boat floating without a lease at a Greenport dock are fending off challenges from commercial fishermen who say the vessel belongs elsewhere.

The Fire Fighter, which is open on weekends to tours and which officials hope will serve as a floating museum, could pose an environmental hazard with its uninspected hull and takes up work space fishing boats could use, fishermen said.

Repairs on the boat, which volunteers bought for $250 a year ago, have progressed slowly since it moved to Greenport in February, and the fishermen and others want the boat moved.

At the least, commercial fisherman Sidney Smith said, the Fire Fighter needs an inspection of its hull — potentially a $100,000 project. “It’s some volunteers that got way in over their head,” Smith said. “It’s an economic disaster waiting to happen.”

Dave Brennan, owner and captain of the charter boats Peconic Star Express and Peconic Star II, said, “To me, it doesn’t belong on a commercial fishing dock.”

The Fire Fighter’s lease with the Village of Greenport ran out in June. The Railroad Dock, where it’s located, is controlled by Greenport, which subleases the site from Suffolk County. Greenport officials did not return calls for comment.

Charlie Ritchie, president of the fireboat museum, said the boat has been a hit with visitors. “The ironic thing is that we have overwhelming appeal to the public,” he said, adding that it takes time to build a volunteer base.

He acknowledged the outside of the 134-foot-long, 32-foot-wide vessel is rusty. Volunteers have hesitated to turn people away from free tours. But work is going on, mostly below deck, to keep the boat operational, Ritchie said. “Despite its appearance, it’s in tremendously good shape,” he said.

He agreed that the boat needs to be hauled out of the water and the hull checked, which he estimated would cost $80,000 to $110,000.

The money raised so far, by donations from those taking care of the boat, have gone to day-to-day maintenance of the boat, Ritchie said.

The group has been hamstrung as it waits for its nonprofit status to be certified by the IRS, he said.

He predicted the boat’s fortunes will improve with plans for joint programs with the nearby East End Seaport Museum. Ron Breuer, chairman of the seaport museum, said his group is neutral in the fireboat fight, though the museum has done tours with them. “It does have historical value as a fireboat,” Breuer said. “It does not relate to Greenport history, unfortunately.”

But Breuer did say that during last month’s maritime festival, the Fire Fighter was a big draw.

Smith, though, is skeptical. It’s “a great idea,” he said, “but I don’t think they’ll ever raise the donations they need.”

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