Kingston-built fireboat immortalizes 9/11 victim William Feehan, FDNY

Patrick Kennedy, The Kingston Whig-Standard

What’s in a name?

Should that name be William M. Feehan and it graces a state-of-the-art fireboat, and should those 14 letters, which when tied together commemorate a hero, are milled from an I-beam lifted from the rubble and ruin of the World Trade Centre 14 years ago, well, then the answer is: Plenty.

A rainbow is created as the newest fireboat in the New York Fire Department fleet gets tested in Kingston's harbour on Wednesday August 5 2015. The William M Feehan is named after the oldest firefighter to die on Sept. 11 2001. The $4.7 million boat was built in Kingston by Metalcraft Marine. Ian MacAlpine/The Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

A rainbow is created as the newest fireboat in the New York Fire Department fleet gets tested in Kingston’s harbour on Wednesday August 5 2015. The William M Feehan is named after the oldest firefighter to die on Sept. 11 2001. The $4.7 million boat was built in Kingston by Metalcraft Marine. Ian MacAlpine/The Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

That name needs no introduction to the 10,000-plus members of the New York City Fire Department. Feehan was a blaze-battling legend in his own time, heralded for his intuitive knowledge and cunning in fighting fires. He was thought to have known the location of every fire hydrant in the Big Apple and remains the only FDNY member to have held every rank in the department, from probationary firefighter on up to fire commissioner.

Feehan died on the job the morning terrorists flew hijacked jetliners into the twin towers on September 11, 2001. At 71, he was the oldest of the 343 firefighters who perished.

“He was a fireman’s fireman,” Salvatore Pastore said over the phone from Brooklyn. Pastore is a lieutenant with Marine Company 6 as well as FDNY liaison with MetalCraft Marine, the Kingston company that built the boat.

“We’ll never forget any of the firefighters we lost that day,” noted 28-year veteran Pastore. “But this lets Chief Feehan’s family know that we’re remembering him in a special way.”

“This” refers to the aluminum-hulled fireboat, an 18-month undertaking and No. 600 overall in the MetalCraft books, all constructed at Anglin Bay, a tucked-in spot where they’ve been building watercraft since the 1700s.

The “fast response” boat is equipped with five stainless steel water cannon capable of dispensing some 8,000 gallons per minute, including a single remote-controlled cannon on the cabin top that shoots out approximately 25,000 litres every 60 seconds. The reach is just over 120 metres, better than the length of a Canadian gridiron. There are also three large-diameter hose connections, essential elements in supplying water to crews fighting fires in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

Just shy of 21 metres in length, the William M. Feehan is powered by a trio of Caterpillar C-18 engines, each capable of pushing out 1,150 horsepower, with twin fuel tanks splitting 4,500 litres. Running at a top speed of 40 knots (about 75 km/h), it can stop in two boat lengths.

Parking in tight quarters is a manoeuvre straight out of The Jetsons. “We had it down to Treasure Island Marina last week,” said MetalCraft contracts manager Bob Clark. “The guy from New York squeezed it between two other boats at the gas dock with maybe two feet to spare on either side. It was amazing. With those water jets, you can pretty much go in sideways.”

Now for the historical feature: Letters comprising a three-and-a-half-metre-long name fashioned from steel salvaged from Ground Zero.

When the four rectangular slabs arrived in Kingston via truck, it took five men to lift and place each one on a skid.

MetalCraft project manager Jay Milner was at first taken aback, not by the staggering weight but rather the symbolic aspect.

“I took two steps back in awe,” Milner said. “I mean this was/is an important piece of history, the significance.

“We were honoured to have played a part in this tribute.”

The steel was first sent to Trenton to be milled, then machined down into individual letters at Woodman’s Machine Shop in Kingston.

“It was pretty neat opportunity for us, quite moving actually,” Woodman’s supervisor Dwayne Woodman said of the two-week job. “All the guys were eager to work on it; some even offered to put in their own time.”

The capital letters, 28 in total, each three-quarters of an inch thick, were painted — what else — fireboat red and mounted on aluminum plates. The name runs along both sides of the boat.

Later this month, the William M. Feehan embarks on a five-day journey ending in the waterways of Gotham. This time next month, the $4.7 million craft will be in service, plying the Hudson and East rivers.

The boat’s christening takes place on the Hudson River in the first week of September, in the same North Cove Marina where fireboats were moored on 9-11, Pastore said.

Feehan, the son of a fireman and a decorated Korean War veteran, joined the department as a “probie” in 1959. He was one month from celebrating his 42nd year of active service when the north tower collapsed on his command station.

“Retirement,” his son John, a third-generation firefighter, was quoted in a New York Times obituary a few days later, “never entered his mind.”

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