The Duwamish hits the water for the first time. Photo courtesy Museum of History & industry

In 1909, in Richmond Beach Washington, construction started on Seattle's new fireboat. Designed by Seattle architect Eugene L. McAllaster and named the Duwamish, the Richmond Beach Shipbuilding Company equipped her with three American LaFrance steam piston pumps that were rated at a capacity of 3,000 gpm each. This gave the Duwamish a total delivery of 9,000 gpm and when launched, it was the world's most powerful fireboat. Her twin screws were powered by vertical compound marine steam engines with 4 Mosher watertube boilers. This gave her a maximum speed of 10 1/2 knots. The Duwamish was accepted by the fire department in 1910 and went into service while Seattle's first fireboat the Snoqualmie, built after the Great Seattle Fire, was put into dry dock to be converted from coal-burning to oil-burning like the Duwamish. The Snoqualmie returned later that year and the two boats served side by side from Station 5. In 1927, the Seattle fire department brought the Fireboat Alki into service and retired the Snoqualmie 5 years later. Although the Alki was newer, the Duwamish was more powerful and she remained the mainstay of Seattle's marine firefighting fleet.

The Grand Trunk Pacific dock fire July 30th 1914. Photo courtesy Museum of History & industry

On July 30th 1914, the Duwamish was put to the test when the Grand Trunk Pacific Dock caught fire. Given that it was the largest wooden pier on the west coast and fully engulfed with fire, it quickly overwhelmed all firefighting efforts. Although the fire completely destroyed the dock, the Duwamish, Snoqualmie and Coast Guard vessel Unalga were credited with saving the surrounding structures including Colman dock.

The Duwamish in Coast Guard colors. Photo courtesy The Coast Guard Museum

The Coast Guard took over the Duwamish during WWII where she served as a patrol boat until 1946 for the Seattle area. In 1949, the Seattle fire department acquired a WWII Navy surplus vessel and used it to convert the Duwamish to her current diesel-electric platform during a major overhaul. When returned to service, the Duwamish once again became world’s most powerful fireboat at 22,800 gpm. This is a record that stood until April 12th of 2003 when LA Fire took delivery of Fireboat #2 which produces 38,000 gpm. Ironically enough, Fireboat #2 was built in Freeland Wa. just a few miles from where the Duwamish was built.

The Fireboat Chief Seattle

Following her conversion, the Duwamish served in the Seattle fire department until her retirement in 1985. This in part was due to the recent acquisition of the fireboat Chief Seattle. Although not nearly as powerful, the Seattle was a state of the art vessel providing capabilities far beyond firefighting. By the 1980's the Seattle fire department needed more than what the Alki and Duwamish could provide. The Chief Seattle gave the department what it needed as it was more than a fireboat it was a rescue boat with firefighting capabilities.

The Duwamish doing what she does best. Photo courtesy the R.H.Kirlin family

While the Duwamish had a primary role of firefighting, she had also become Seattle's waterfront ambassador greeting many vessels coming to Seattle as well as providing tours to Presidents and other dignitaries. After her retirement, with help from the Seattle JC’s, the Duwamish was designated a Seattle city landmark on October 8, 1986. Eight years later, the Shipping & Railway Heritage Trust acquired the Duwamish from the city of Seattle and began the long road to preservation.

Over her 75 years of service, the Duwamish fought many fires. Some were small while others were enormous. The Duwamish dealt with them all as she always did, with grace and power. She always brought her crew home safe and because of her, the Seattle waterfront was a safer place.