Three Forty Three

Nine years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York’s Bravest have a world-class fireboat that pays tribute to fallen comrades and ensures a more robust response to the city’s emergencies.

Three Forty Three (Dom Yanchunas photo)

The Fire Department of New York took delivery of its much-anticipated vessel Three Forty Three this spring. Constructed at Eastern Shipbuilding Group’s yard in Panama City, Fla., Three Forty Three boasts the greatest water pumping capacity of any fireboat in the world and is the largest fireboat in North America.

Three Forty Three, which cost $27 million, is the first of two identical vessels that will replace the department’s pair of aging, slow, low-tech fireboats. The name of the boat represents the number of New York firefighters who lost their lives in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks; its sister vessel has the more prosaic name Fire Fighter II.

The boats are successors to the city’s John D. McKean and Fire Fighter, which have seen more than a half-century of service. Each of the new vessels can pump 50,000 gallons of water per minute. Top speed is 17.4 knots fully loaded, and the boats contain an encapsulated zone with an air filtration system that protects the crew from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents, or CBRN.

Three Forty Three’s main bow monitor can shoot 17,000 gallons a minute across a distance longer than two football fields. (Dom Yanchunas photo)

James Dalton, the fire department’s chief of marine operations, said innovations over the previous boats will improve his crews’ response to emergencies ranging from waterfront infernos and mass-casualty ship accidents to hazardous-material leaks and terrorist attacks.

“We’re just about doubling our speed, and we’re more than doubling our pumping power,” Dalton said. “And there’s the CBRN protection system for the crew.”

Three Forty Three‘s largest firefighting weapon is the main bow monitor. Up against a fire in the harbor or in a shoreline structure, the leviathan can shoot water at a rate of 17,000 gallons per minute. It blasts the water a distance longer than two football fields. Eleven smaller monitors pump 2,600 to 5,300 gallons per minute each.

With all pumps engaged, maximum delivery is 50,000 gallons of water a minute. (Photo courtesy Eastern Shipbuilding Group)

“The most remarkable thing about this boat is the pumping capacity,” said Justin Smith, project manager at Eastern Shipbuilding. “She pumps 50,000 gallons per minute, and the average city fire engine pumps 1,000 gallons per minute, so she’s like the equivalent of 50 city fire engines.”

Each of the monitors can operate independently, and they can do more than just douse a blaze.

“They’re also for self-protection,” Dalton said. “We can turn those around and point them at ourselves and create a water curtain against radiant heat.”

The maximum draft of Three Forty Three is nine feet. Because the firefighters would like access to shallow, otherwise non-navigable areas of the city’s waterways, the designers opted for four smaller screws rather than one or two large ones. They are powered by four MTU engines producing 2,240 bhp each. Each engine can do two jobs, depending on the crew’s needs at the moment.

“We used four propellers because of the water draft limitations, and all engines can participate in getting to the scene of the fire as soon as possible,” said Ken Harford, principal-in-charge at Robert Allan Ltd., the vessel’s designer. “Once on the scene, two engines would participate in the station-keeping role, and two engines can operate as pump engines. And all four engines can operate as pump engines.”

Pilot Charles Stauder operates the helm and joystick system on the fireboat’s console. Power comes from four MTU 12V 4000 diesels rated at 2,240 bhp at 2,000 rpm. If necessary, all four can operate as pump engines. (Dom Yanchunas photo)

The Hundested variable-pitch propellers contribute to the stoutness and maneuverability of the vessel. Three Forty Three features a semi-displacement hull form and Wesmar tunnel-type bow thruster.

“This boat, with 8,000 hp, would probably out-pull any other tugs you have in New York Harbor, and that’s because of the controllable-pitch propeller system,” Harford said. “In a firefighting situation, you need that bollard pull capability for your station-keeping.”

According to engineers at both Robert Allan and Eastern Shipbuilding, one of the most difficult aspects of the project was designing the protected zone aboard the vessel.

“The high-efficiency particulate-arresting filters and pressurizing the citadel of the interior space were a little more challenging and something we hadn’t seen before,” said Derek Noon, project manager with Robert Allan.

The CBRN filtration system protects the crew from toxic agents from spills, leaks or weapons. There is a space to assess hazardous materials and a decontamination shower. The firefighters can operate in a protected, pressurized area with an air supply that is forced through charcoal and particulate filters.

“It’s fairly novel. It’s like a large air-filtration system,” Smith said. “The shipyard’s role is to keep all areas as tight as possible. … It’s linked into the shipboard monitoring system to make sure pressure is maintained, and it makes the crew aware if the filters are getting clogged and if it’s time to change the filters.”

The boat also has an advanced network of communications systems, including a full command center in the captain’s quarters.

“Integrating all the systems was probably the hardest thing,” Smith said. “Getting everything so that it communicates with everything else was probably the biggest challenge.”

The unique integration allows the officers on the bridge to see and hear everything they need to develop a comprehensive picture of the operating environment and to make rapid decisions. The bridge offers a 360-degree view of the boat’s surroundings.

“The boat has internal communications, and there are cameras, and they have night-vision and thermal imaging equipment so they can see all the hot spots,” Harford said. The Raytheon ACU 1000 interoperable radio “can patch any form of communication to any other form of communication, like cell-phone-to-radio. It allows you to mix and match.”

After experimenting with various bow designs, Robert Allan determined the optimal freeboard to be 12 feet, six inches.

“The FDNY needs freeboard on the bow of eight feet for boarding the Staten Island Ferry,” Noon said. “But that created a very wet foredeck. So the foredeck area now has a ballast tank. We use one of the fire pumps to rapidly fill up the ballast tank, and it lowers about four feet.”

Like so many other features on the fireboat, the deck-mounted crane has multiple functions.

“The crane is used as a crane, and it’s also used as high-level lighting, and you can also use it for firefighter transfers or to bring a patient down from a ship,” Noon said. The crane extends to 50 feet above water level.

Three Forty Three has a custom-designed 17-foot SAFE Boats International fast rescue boat mounted on its stern. The small boat can be used for rapid-deployment waterborne responses and also for sailing up inlets that are too shallow for the fireboat.

Three Forty Three is dedicated to the lives of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 disaster. The name boards on the hull were fabricated out of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center site, and staff in the fire department’s own workshop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard cut each set of 15 letters themselves. The vessel’s homeport will be Pier 53 on the West Side of Manhattan.

Many of those involved in the project expressed satisfaction with the symbolism of seeing the new boats enter service.

“It has been one of the most moving experiences of my life. I used to be a volunteer fireman in Maine. My whole family felt a special connection to this boat,” said Eastern Shipbuilding’s Smith. “To see what they are coming off from and what they’re going onto now — the possibilities of what they’re going to be able to do with this new equipment — it just floors you.”

By Professional Mariner Staff