On the anniversary of its darkest day, the FDNY is launching a state-of-the-art boat designed to quickly respond should the unthinkable happen again.
The boat "343," named after the number of Fire Department members killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, will be christened Friday in Florida and soon after move to the forefront of a fleet of boats charged with patrolling the 562 miles of city coastline.
The primary mission of the $27-million boat was born eight years ago, when the older FDNY Marine 1 - the John D. McKean - raced to the burning Trade Center and evacuated more than 200 people to New Jersey.
After hydrants across lower Manhattan were rendered useless by the towers' collapse, the McKean, which drew its water from the Hudson River, was one of the FDNY's few methods of battling the raging fire.
"The 343 will significantly improve our ability to respond to emergencies in and around New York Harbor," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, "while also reminding us all of the incredible sacrifices so many of our members made eight years ago."
Funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, the new boat is 140 feet long and can pump 50,000 gallons of water a minute, which is more than double the capacity of the McKean, officials said.
The boat, whose name is emblazoned on the hull in steel from the World Trade Center, has a military-designed pressurized air system to protect firefighters from smoke and radiation.
The 343 will be christened by a group of FDNY officials in a ceremony at the Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla. and will be patrolling New York's waterways by December. Its sister ship, the Firefighter II, should go into service next spring.
"Every man working on the 343 knows it's a special project," said Mike Yriondo of Eastern Shipbuilding. "They know what this boat means to your city."