The new $27 million FDNY fireboat is being billed as the most technically advanced in the world, built in part to help bolster counterterrorism at the city's ports.
The vessel, named the Three Forty Three for the number of fire department members who died in the Sept. 11 attack, was officially commissioned Wednesday evening at a Fleet Week ceremony. The bow and the stern were constructed using steel from the World Trade Center.
The red, white and black ship will be stationed at Marine 1 on the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan, replacing the 50-year-old John D. McKean. The Three Forty Three is more powerful than two of the old fireboats combined, FDNY chief James Dalton said.
The specs are impressive: It's 140 feet long, weighs 500 tons and can pump nearly 50,000 gallons of water per minute from four engines. An air-filtering system keeps passengers safe from 98 percent of hazardous chemicals. It was developed with the assistance of the U.S. Navy Engineers and paid for with grants from the federal Homeland Security Department and the city.
The FDNY Marine Fleet is responsible for guarding more than 450 miles of coastline and harbors and has been in existence for a century. But today's concerns of terrorist attacks meant the department had to rethink how to use the boats.
"We had to think about the threats that are going to affect New York City and the region for the next 50 years," Dalton said.
The tightly organized boat has a decontamination area with showers that leads straight to a triage center with oxygen tanks and first-aid. High-tech lights go off when hazardous chemicals are detected outside and the purification system kicks into gear.
Richard Johnson, captain of the Marine Company unit where the boat will dock, responded to US Airways flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River last January where all aboard were saved. He said the difference between the McKean and the Three Forty Three is massive.
"We're able to do so much more, even just with the deck space. We can fit so many more people ... in case we're ever in that same situation as the plane again," he said.
The boat is expected to be put to work starting in late July, after the crew is trained on how to work the high-tech systems.
Powerful water cannons stationed around the ship are remotely controlled by joysticks and computers set up in the top deck where the pilot and engineers sit. Video screens nestled between old-time mariner's clocks monitor the area around the boat, and infrared cameras can detect suspicious activity from afar and send images to headquarters, the NYPD and the U.S. Coast Guard, Dalton said.
Seven crew will man the boat made up of pilots who move the ship and engineers who make it run.
FDNY pilot Ed Mauro said it's taken a bit of time to learn how the new alarms sound and how to manage the new computerized system.
"It's like going from a wooden ship to a space ship," he said.
Firefighters who work on the boats have already receive additional training and must be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard before operating the boats.
The fireboat's sister ship, Firefighter II, will replace another 50-year-old ship, the Fire Fighter, and will be docked at Marine 9 on Staten Island. It is being tested in waters off Panama City, Fla.