New Chicago fireboat honors fallen firefighter

The fireboat is called the Christopher Wheatley for the 31-year-old Chicago firefighter who died Aug. 9 in the line of duty

By Sharon Hill
The Windsor Star

WHEATLEY, Canada — At 90 feet long and 300 tons, the $8.5 million Chicago fireboat is the biggest thing to come out of Wheatley harbor in years.

"It's an impressive boat," Windsor's J.P. Cormier of Chapman Signs said last week as he finished the Chicago Fire Department lettering on the sides of the red fireboat.

Photo courtesy of Dan JasinaChicago Fire Department's new fireboat is docked in Wheatley, Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Dan Jasina
Chicago Fire Department's new fireboat is docked in Wheatley, Ontario.

The vessel — scheduled to arrive today, weather permitting — has four large nozzles that look like guns and are able to deliver 14,000 gallons of water per minute.

"It's these water jets right there," Cormier said of the boat's wow factor. "They're so massive."

The vessel represents more than a year of work for Hike Metal Products Ltd. and its more than 20 workers. It's the largest boat the Wheatley ship builder has sent out of the harbor in four or five years and is larger than a fireboat built in 2007 for Baltimore.

"It's been 60 years since Chicago has [had] a new fireboat, and we're excited about its arrival," said Larry Langford, a fire department spokesman.

On Friday morning, the Chicago fireboat left the harbor and passed down the Detroit River. It headed through Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on its way to Chicago.

The boat carries the Wheatley name in a touching coincidence that surprised fire officials in Chicago and the ship builders here.

The fireboat is called the Christopher Wheatley for the 31-year-old Chicago firefighter who died Aug. 9 in the line of duty. He was carrying equipment up a fire escape during a restaurant fire when he fell to his death.

His father, Daniel Wheatley, said after the Chicago Fire Department told him the city's replacement fireboat would be commissioned in his son's name, he asked about who was building the boat. When he looked up Hike Metal's website and saw the location, he was stunned. He traveled to Ontario in March to see the boat and the village of Wheatley.

"His mother and I both agreed, he's talking to us. He's sending a message that he's all right and we'll see you another day."

Daniel said his son loved firefighting and hanging out on a pleasure boat he and his father owned.

Not many firefighters in Chicago know what name the fireboat will bear when it arrives. Hike Metal officials found out about the coincidence four months ago when they asked what name to put on the boat.

Company president Andy Stanton said Wheatley's not a common name and he's pleased a hero will carry the Wheatley name out of the harbour. "We were very surprised."

The Christopher Wheatley is a heavy-duty fireboat designed to break up to 12 inches of ice so it can operate year-round.

It can be used with scuba divers, for rescues, for firefighting with foam or water and as a pumping station to supplement the city's fire-main supply of water. It can be run with a crew of five or up to 10 when fighting a fire. It has a kitchen, washroom and crew accommodations below decks.

One of the four monitor nozzles sits on a platform that can be elevated 30 feet, and the force of the spray will be enough to blast brick off the side of a building, Stanton said.

To be able to pass underneath low bridges, the boat was built so the mast comes down and it sits no more than 16 feet out of the water. It has four engines, two for the water pumps and two 1,500 horsepower propulsion engines to drive the boat. It can travel at 12 knots or at three knots through ice.

"These boats aren't built every day," Stanton said of the attention it has received.

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