One of the main attractions to those new to the Tacoma area, is the nearly one-hundred-year-old red Fireboat Number 1, the first fireboat that had the power to quickly get to and quelch flames along the waterfront, even into the downtown working waterfront. It has been on display just a few feet from the sidewalk and the roadway for a number of years along Ruston Way.
Fireboat Number 1 was designed for speed and power. It long patrolled Tacoma’s waterfront with its five 425 horsepower gas engines before retiring. The fireboat has weathered the storms for years, but it is getting a little worse for wear. Metro Parks is providing support for two community groups as they clean up, remove some rust, and repaint the hull and more.
With Vashon Island and Puget Sound as the backdrops, Fireboat Number 1 calls for some restoration of the wooden hull and the painted elements on deck and above to fit in with the surrounding beauty.
Because of the increased traffic along Ruston Way and the waterfront, I don’t often drive that route from our Northend home to downtown Tacoma any more. I either take other roads or carefully choose a time of less traffic, which is becoming harder to find.
When we first moved to the edges of the North End, the waterfront park had not been built. When we walked down the hill to take a walk our early elementary kids for a walk along the water, we had to call them back from exploring the raw unlandscaped edges. They found discarded needles and used rubbers along the undeveloped shore.
But since the redevelopment, we’ve enjoyed devouring lobster, excellent pizza, and great seafood and great safe walks. My wife Peggy and I have long enjoyed showing off the Old Tacoma Fireboat to grandchildren. It needs help!
One summer a few years ago, we took two grands, with Grandmother Peggy, for an overview via a highflying kite tethered to a motor boat. The younger of the two began by moaning, even though she had been eager to go on the adventure, “We are going to fall into the water. We’ll be eaten by sharks. We’ll all die!” By a third of the way through the experience, even the frightened girl had a wonderful time too. She just became scared as we started ascend. (And how did she know about the sharks?)
Metro Parks has stepped forward to help out two community groups dedicating time and effort to restore and preserve the ship’s body and topside. The ship will never sail again, but the look and the history of it will stay with us for years to come, sailing in our mind’s eye to make Tacoma’s waterfront and the ships and wharves safe.
“It’s part of the history of Tacoma,” said Sean O’Brien, a retired member of the Tacoma Fire Department. “You have to take pride in the things and people that have served the community.”
Our Pacific Northwest weather slowed down the progress of restoration and dreams of glory. It was just after Labor Day when work began. Great minds think alike. Just as O’Brien began making plans, John Schneider with Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 had been approached about restoring the fireboat as part of community service. Schneider has long worked with The Salvation Army in helping people in our community. The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 okayed the restoration of the fireboat as part of their mission of community service.
“I reached out to some friends of mine at the fire department to find out who I should talk to,” Schneider said. “They put me in touch with Sean and we went from there.”
The parks, playgrounds, restaurants, piers, and sidewalks are often filled with families, joggers and very young and older bike riders providing many reasons to visit and enjoy the beautiful waters of Puget Sound, and the Pacific Northwest . . . even in the rain and wind of fall and winter. People seen to always be down there, taking advantage of one of Tacoma’s best ideas.