PANAMA CITY BEACH — from the News Herald…A fireboat built in the memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during 9/11 eight years ago will launch into Watson Bay at 10 a.m. Friday at Eastern Shipbuilding Group on Nelson Street.
“Naturally, Friday is 9/11. You immediately start thinking back to the ones you lost — the ones you knew and worked with,” said Jim Dalton, New York City fire department marine operations chief. “All the guys, everybody knew somebody. Everybody gets very emotional this time of the year.”
The vessel replaces the Fire Department of New York’s aging fleet and serves as a memorial, Dalton said.
The 140-foot fast response fireboat named 343 is similar to no other vessel Eastern Shipbuilding Company has built, said Michael Yriondo, program manager.
The vessel is the biggest fireboat in the world, he says, capable of pumping 50,000 gallons of water per minute. The fireboat can supply water up to 5 miles inland, go 20 miles per hour, lower its deck level with water to act as a ferry and protect firefighters from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.
The fireboat’s lettering on the bow and stern are welded from steel from the World Trade Centers, which collapsed after two airliners struck the towers Sept. 11, 2001. Some 2,752 people died.
New York lost its water mains except for two fireboats, Yriondo said. Those fireboats are to be retired after serving more than 50 years.
On Thursday, the crews at Eastern Shipbuilding finished up wiring and paint jobs on 343. They strung American Flags and decorations. More than 1,000 people are expected to come to the launch, Yriondo said.
About 150 people at Eastern Shipbuilding worked on the fireboat, Yriondo said. They fought to work on it, he said.
Standing on the deck with digital cameras, machinist supervisors Mark Colsson and Norm Wyzorowski took turns posing Wednesday.
“It’s a real special boat,” Wyzorowski said. “9/11 was a long time ago to a lot of people, but it’s good that these people are not forgotten.”
“I feel like it’s an honor to work on this boat,” Colsson said. “It stands for a lot.”
Everyone involved in constructing the fireboat has pride in it, Yriondo said.
“You can see the pride and attention to detail by Eastern Shipbuilding and every man and woman who worked on the boat,” Daltons aid.
Firemen are coming from all over the Panhandle to look at the fireboat, said William Siegel, New York retired fire chief. Once the 343 is delivered to New York in December, it will become a tourist attraction, he said.
“Every firefighter who goes to New York will visit the fireboat,” Siegle said.
Boaters occasionally cruise by to get a look at 343. At least two people stood on Nelson Street and gawked at the red and white fireboat Friday afternoon.
The 343 is one of two fireboats Eastern Shipbuilding plans to build for New York by mid-2010 for $54 million. The fireboats are largely funded through the Department of Homeland Security, Yriondo said. Construction on 343 began in June 2008 and recently started on the other fireboat, Fire Fighter II.
The new boats will serve as backups to the water system, help with widespread evacuations, act as a ferry and support some triage for up to about 30 people. Each fireboat will have a command center with interoperable communications so firefighters can talk to just about any first-responding agency.
The old fireboats go 12 miles per hour, but the new vessels run 20 miles per hour. That’s half the response time, Dalton said. The vessels are expected to last another 50 years.
The launch of 343 is important to firefighters and to the memory of all people who died on 9/11. A retired New York firefighter who lost his brother on 9/11 plans to speak before the launch. A wreath will be placed in the water as a memorial