NY firefighters celebrate fire boat's 116-year birthday

Officials said the boat has been in commission since before President Theodore Roosevelt took office


By Matt Glynn
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Edward M. Cotter fireboat celebrated its 116th birthday — "sweet 16 plus 100" — on Saturday, complete with a party, tours and cake.

But this vessel is no museum relic.

When a massive fire broke out this week at the Bethlehem Steel site, the Buffalo Fire Department considering sending the Cotter to help battle the blaze, said Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr.

That turned out not to be logistically feasible. But the vessel billed as the world's oldest working fireboat remains essential to the department, from fighting fires to breaking ice in the Buffalo River in order to prevent flooding in towns upstream, Whitfield said.

"This boat is relevant today, not just a historic boat," Whitfield said.

The public got a chance to take free tours of the vessel on Saturday, and can do so again on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park.

The Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy is raising funds to restore the vessel, and hopes the tours will increase awareness about the Cotter's active service as well as its place in history, said Sandy Beckman, the conservancy's president.

"They can get to touch and see our history on the waterfront, especially with the redevelopment of the waterfront," Beckman said. "This is really the grandfather of the waterfront."

Fillmore Council Member David Franczyk noted the vessel was serving the city even before Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated as president here. And with new commercial and residential projects rising along the Buffalo River, the fireboat remains as vital as ever, he said.

But firefighting is only part of the Cotter's job. Sam Guadagna, a retired Cotter captain, recalled the vessel breaking "as much as a foot of ice with no problem. It would go through it like it was a sheet of newspaper."

Guadagna had the honor of cutting the Cotter's cake, flanked by Whitfield and Mayor Byron Brown.  

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