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Fireboat Duwamish is launched on July 3, 1909.
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On July 3, 1909, the fireboat Duwamish is launched by her builder, Richmond Beach Shipbuilding, north of Seattle. Designed by Seattle architect Eugene L. McAllaster, the Duwamish is the world's most powerful fireboat, upon which others will be modeled. The 120-foot long, steam-powered boat has a steel riveted hull, a flat bottom designed to work in tideflats and shallow waters, and a projecting "ram" bow designed to sink burning wooden boats, a last resort strategy to prevent a burning ship from igniting other ships or docks. The Duwamish can attain a speed of 10 knots.
The Duwamish went into service to spell Seattle's first fireboat, the Snoqualmie. The boat and its crew (along with the Snoqualmie and the Coast Guard vessel Unalga) fought the Grand Truck Pacific Dock fire of 1914, in which five people died and many more were injured. Without the fireboats, the fire would have been even more devastating.
During World War II, the Coast Guard used the Duwamish as a patrol boat. After the war, she was returned to the city, and in 1949 the Fire Department installed diesel-electric motors, which gave her the power to shoot 28,800 gallons a minute. The Duwamish had the most powerful water canons in the world for 94 years until a Los Angeles fireboat, Fireboat No. 2, superseded her in 2003.
The fireboat was retired in 1985 and was decommissioned. The City of Seattle designated her a Seattle city landmark on October 8, 1986.
She is moored at the Maritime Heritage Center on South Lake Union. She came into the news after a fire at a Lake Union marina caused enormous damage on Saturday May 18, 2002. The fire at the foot of Corliss Avenue N on the Wallingford side of the lake destroyed at least three dozen pleasure boats.
The marina burned while the fireboat Chief Seattle rushed around from Elliott Bay and through the Ballard Locks into Lake Union, a process that took nearly an hour. At the time many people questioned why the Duwamish could not have been used to slow the fire until the Chief Seattle arrived. The Duwamish lacked current instruments and chemical foam, but still possessed tremendous waterpower.
The owner of the Duwamish, the Shipping and Railway Heritage Trust (later renamed Puget Sound Fireboat Foundation), had been negotiating with the City for several months about outfitting the vessel to return to service, but without success. Bob Sittig, executive director of the Maritime Heritage Center, where the vessel was moored, commented, "It seems as though the bureaucrats fiddle while Seattle burns."
Angela Galloway, "Fire Ravages Marina on North Lake Union," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 18, 2002, (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com); Mike Barber, "Powerful Fireboat Idle as Marina Burned," Ibid., May 21, 2002; Editorial Board, "Museum Piece to Fight Fires in 21st Century?" Ibid., June 4, 2002; "The Fireboat Duwamish," Puget Sound Fireboat Foundation website (www.fireboatduwamish.org); "New Fireboat Is Placed in Water," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 4, 1909, p. 9.
Note: This file was revised on October 26, 2003, and updated on September 11, 2005, and again on March 6, 2006.
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