Tarrytown Poised to Become the Permanent Home of the Historic FDNY Fireboat John D. McKean

The McKean answered Captain Sullenberger’s call for help in what became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” and responded to the 9/11 attacks. Photo: David Rocco

Having served the FDNY for almost 60 years, the Fireboat John D. McKean found itself under the care of the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project, which restored the ship to its former glory in 2019. Since then, it has been in search of a permanent homeport, jumping between the Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 in Tribeca and Panco Petroleum Co. in Stony Point. 

Launched on Sept. 9, 1954, the fireboat was named after marine engineer John D. McKean who heroically persevered at his post despite fatal injuries from a steam explosion on the McKean’s predecessor.  

Throughout the years, the McKean has served the City of New York through thick and thin. It routinely accompanied the Macy’s 4th of July firework barges, welcomed dignitaries, and provided a comforting presence in New York’s harbors. During New York’s most pivotal of moments, the McKean answered Captain Sully Sullenberger’s call for help in what became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” and crucially responded to the 9/11 attacks. 

On that chaotic day, the McKean ferried those fleeing for their lives across the Hudson River, and in the hours, days, and weeks following the attacks, its 14,000-gallon-per-minute water pumps proved to be vital in putting out the fires left in the wake of the attacks. Among those who served on the McKean was FDNY Lt. Harry Wanamaker, the father of Briarcliff Manor resident and the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project’s President Tracy Conte. Wanamaker would later die due to 9/11-related cancer, but his legacy and memory live on through his loved ones, heroism, and, at least in part, the McKean.  

The McKean routinely accompanied the Macy’s 4th of July firework barges. Photo: David Rocco

On Dec. 8, 2022, the McKean conditionally received a place in the NY State and National Register of Historic Places (one of only eight fireboats to receive such an honor) so long as it could find a permanent homeport. According to Conte, “Tarrytown is a perfect home for the McKean because of its proximity to the train station, visibility from the Gov. Cuomo Bridge walkway and the RiverWalk, and its central location for volunteers and visitors. All of our volunteers, including our skilled hands-on team, all live in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding villages and are part of the community as volunteer first responders and in other ways. We would love to have the McKean’s home be such a vibrant community that celebrates history, culture, and the waterfront.”  

Conte and her organization hope to become an integral part of Tarrytown’s community through “tours, small events such as exhibits or an evening of music, or boat rides and water displays” In addition, she hopes to leverage the McKean’s historical status to stimulate tourism and secure grants all whilst striving “to be an active part of the community and collaborate with the Village and residents.” 

One of Conte’s colleagues at the Fireboat McKean Preservation Project, David Rocco added that the organization’s goals were of “renewing the public’s sense of wonder and awe regarding the preservation of historic vessels such as the John D. McKean Fireboat and combining historic preservation with science, technology, and education innovation.”  

The proposal that would list the McKean’s homeport as the Tarrytown Marina is set to be decided upon by the village of Tarrytown by early February.  

For more information on the McKean’s move to Tarrytown or to volunteer/donate, visit www.fireboatmckean.org/ or email info@fireboatmckean.org     

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About the Author: Tevin Kim