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Originally published Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Now & Then

Duwamish fireboat was a savior and a showboat

Seattle's fireboat, the Duwamish, was used to shoot tons of water onto fires in Elliott Bay and along the waterfront in the early 1900s. But more often, it was used to show off its powers for city celebrations and to welcome visiting ships and dignitaries. It became a national historic landmark.

SEATTLE'S SECOND fireboat, the Duwamish, is now a century old, and although no longer chasing waterfront or waterborne fires, it apparently could be — with a 100-year tuneup. Instead, its ironclad 120 feet floats in a slip beside the lightship Swiftsure at South Lake Union Park, accepting visitors and hoping for enthused volunteers.

The Duwamish was built nearby in Richmond Beach, and its designer, naval architect Eugene McAllaster, made the boat strong enough to ram and sink burning wooden vessels (if need be) and flat enough to chase fires bordering shallow tideflats. He equipped the Duwamish to break records in shooting water — eventually 1.6 tons of it a second. However, it was a power used more often for water shows during city celebrations or for welcoming visiting ships.

Launched July 3, 1909, it was then delivered to waterfront Fire Station No. 5, here at the foot of Madison Street. Soon after the Duwamish took to its slip, the largest wooden dock on the Pacific Coast was built directly south of it. The short-lived Grand Trunk Pacific dock is seen here sometime before July 30, 1914, when it was consumed in a spectacular fire. While the combined barrage from the water canons of the Duwamish and the Snoqualmie, a smaller sister vessel, could not save the Grand Trunk Pacific, they are credited with keeping its neighbors, including Fire Station No. 5, from igniting.

During World War II, the Duwamish was a Coast Guard patrol boat, then returned to its original service. In 1986, one year after its retirement, the Duwamish was added to the list of Seattle landmarks, and three years later was made a National Historic Landmark as well.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at

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