Fire Fighter museum starting to run out of options

11/20/2016 9:00 AM |

Faced with recent roadblocks in raising money for restoration of the decommissioned FDNY fireboat docked in Greenport, Charlie Ritchie has launched a new fundraising campaign with the help of a familiar philanthropist.

Mr. Ritchie, president of the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, said he hopes to raise enough money to complete a project several years in the making. To spark the fundraising effort, he said, the Charlie and Helen Reichert Foundation has agreed to match every dollar raised up to $50,000. Mr. Reichert, owner of the IGA supermarkets in Greenport and Southold, made headlines recently when the foundation donated money toward radio system repairs for the Southold Town Police Department, improvements at the Mattituck High School baseball field and new uniforms for Greenport High School athletes.

Mr. Reichert said the fireboat is a “great historical thing.”

“The boat has been around for so long and it has so much to do with the city of New York,” he said.

Charlie Ritchie, president of the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, aboard the fireboat in Greenport last week. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Charlie Ritchie, president of the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum, aboard the fireboat in Greenport last week. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Mr. Ritchie said the nonprofit museum received two reimbursable grants in 2015 totaling $494,000 toward preserving the vessel. However, the museum has been unable to secure loans or a line of credit. The grant money is reimbursed only after the project is completed, so the nonprofit is still tasked with raising the total amount needed. The museum received a $100,000 advance from New York State, but the estimated cost of the project is about $520,000, he said.

The museum is at risk of losing the grant money, Mr. Ritchie said, leaving it with just the $100,000 from the state.

“We have to remind people that we are looking for a loan, not a donation,” Mr. Ritchie said.

It would take one to three months for the grant money to be reimbursed, he said.

The Fireboat Fire Fighter, a National Historic Landmark, is the most highly decorated fireboat in the world, according to museum officials, and has been in Greenport since 2013.

Mr. Ritchie said he’s given up trying to obtain bank loans after being denied six times. The hope now is to secure private lenders or donors, he said.

“Charlie has been a tremendous help so far,” Mr. Ritchie said of the Reichert Foundation’s offer. “If we do that, we would have $100,000, which would help a lot.”

Mr. Ritchie said the boat will transfer to Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Co. on Staten Island for repairs. The sooner that can happen, the better, he said. He hopes to have to boat ready for its 80-year anniversary in 2018.

“We want to get this to the next phase,” he said. “We want to become operational. We want the boat to run and to take people on rides and we can’t do any of that until we get the boat to the shipyard.”

One of the mostly restored sections of the Fire Fighter, the room where the captain would steer the boat. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

One of the mostly restored sections of the Fire Fighter, the room where the captain would steer the boat. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

The fireboat needs to be hauled out of the water to assess any possible damage to the hull, which will be cleaned and painted, in addition to other improvements.

The fireboat’s presence in Greenport has been a cause for controversy in the past. Fishermen have complained that the railroad dock is meant for commercial boats only. The county, which leases the dock to Greenport Village, had previously argued that the boat’s presence at the railroad dock created a liability.

Mr. Ritchie said he hopes to begin a fundraising campaign on Fire Fighter’s Facebook page and will try to engage the community.

“I feel a tremendous responsibility,” he said. “If I walk away from this, who’s going to pick it up?”

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