9/11 Fireboat That Could

— In the panic of Sept. 11, 2001, as tens of thousands of people tried to leave the island of Manhattan, an aging boat once headed for the scrap heap became a hero of sorts.

On 9/11, the John J. Harvey raced to Pier 11, evacuating 150 terrified, dust-covered people.

Then came a second call. Firemen battling blazes at the World Trade Center had no water because the twin towers had fallen on the water lines.

"The water mains were destroyed, so there was no other source of water available, except for the river," said Tim Ivory, a mechanic who is Harvey's engineer.

The fireboat works by sucking in the water it floats on. The Harvey's pumps can shoot 20,000 gallons a minute.

Retired by the New York City Fire Department in 1994, the Harvey was supposed to be sold for scrap, but eight fireboat lovers bought it in 1999.

They were thinking of making it a floating bar when Ivory said, "Wait, I think we can make it work again." And they did, having no idea how useful it would prove be.

For three days, the Harvey joined three active-duty fireboats to provide the only water there was to keep the 9/11 fires from getting worse.

Storied History

It was not the first action the Harvey had seen.

"When you have lots of time to sit in one spot and look around, you realize that there's been 70 years worth of people crawling all over this boat," Ivory said. "It's gone through, or I should say, outlived, many crew members."

It was the most powerful fireboat in the world when built in 1931, able to douse the cars more than 200 feet up on the George Washington Bridge.

The Harvey battled dockside fires, and won fame when the ship Normandy capsized during World War II, almost crushing another fireboat. The Harvey pulled that fireboat free at the last moment.

Preservation Bid

Nowadays, the ship's owners are trying to raise funds for its preservation. They offer occasional free trips and demonstrations.

"This boat runs, and that is the beautiful thing about it," said Jessica DuLong, the assistant fireboat engineer. "She's a living museum."

The ship is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has become the focus of a children's book, Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey.

"Kids just love the fact that it shoots water," DuLong said.

Adults seem to love it, too.

"It is an experience like you've never had before," said Dick Solay, a passenger.

ABCNEWS' Bill Blakemore and Laiea Smith contributed to this report.

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