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E.M.Cotter on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996.

    EDWARD M. COTTER (Fireboat)

    National Historic Landmarks Program - E.M.Cotter Buffalo Fireboat

    Buffalo, New York County of Erie.
    National Register Number: 96000968
    Property type: Government - public works. Resource type: Structure.
    Certified Local Government: YES
    Ownership: PublicLocal.
    Themes: Transportation.

    Statement of Significance (as of designation - June 28, 1996): The fireboat/icebreaker EDWARD M. COTTER, built in 1900 as W.S. GRATTAN, later renamed FIREFIGHTER, and known by her present name since 1954, is the oldest fireboat operating on the Great Lakes. While conforming to the national fireboat type, COTTER exemplifies features specific to her Lakes use on frequently frozen waterways. She also is the oldest fireboat left in service in the United States and possibly the world.   Comments and questions about the database may be directed to NHL_info@nps.gov

    The Edward M. Cotter, built in 1900, is a National Treasure historic land mark, the oldest active member of the Buffalo New York's Fire Department, an International Good Will Ambassador. It is designated a National Historic Landmark vessel and the world's oldest operating fireboat/icebreaker. It is the city's Engine #20 and still battles fires along Buffalo's waterfront. Just recently it supplied water to a junk yard fire along the Buffalo River. During the winter months the ship is used to break up ice along Buffalo's waterfront.

    The original name of the ship was the William S. Grattan, and she was built in 1900 by the Crescent Shipyard of Elizabeth Port, New Jersey. Due to age she was rebuilt in 1953 and was renamed Firefighter upon her return. The following year she was renamed the Edward M. Cotter.[1] Her namesake, Edward Cotter, was a Buffalo firefighter and leader of the local firefighters union who had recently died.

    The Edward M. Cotter is considered to be the oldest active fireboat in the world and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Along with her firefighting duties, during the winter the Edward M. Cotter is used as an icebreaker on Buffalo's waterfront. The Cotter mounts five fire monitors that are capable of pumping 15,000 US gallons per minute (0.95 m3/s; 12,000 imp gal/min).[5][6] She can often be seen sailing out of her berth and south-west to Lake Erie, returning north through the breakwall and firing her fire monitors.


    The ship that was to become the Edward M. Cotter was built in 1900 by the Crescent Shipyard of Elizabeth Port, New Jersey. She was originally named the William S. Grattan after the first paid fire commissioner for the city of Buffalo. Construction was started on March 24, 1900 and she was christened on September 5, 1900 by Virginia Pearson, the young daughter of one of the city's fire commissioners. The final construction cost for the ship was $91,000.

    The completed ship was 118 ft (36 m) in length, a beam of 24 ft (7.3 m) and a draft of 10 ft 10 in (3.30 m). A 1.5 in (38.1 mm) thick belt line of Swedish steel was included around the hull for icebreaking duties. The Grattan was powered by two Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired boilers with steam engines rated at 900 horsepower (670 kW). A single propeller provided propulsion. The rated speed of the ship was 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph). The ship was also equipped with three double action steam pumps that supplied water at 9,000 gallons per minute to the three fire monitors used for firefighting. Two of the fire monitors were mounted on the forward section of the ship and one was on the stern section.


    At the beginning of the twentieth century, Buffalo's waterfront was an extremely busy center of commerce. Grain elevators, warehouses and shipping traffic had overtaxed the two existing fireboats: the John T. Hutchinson (Engine 23) and the George R. Potter (Engine 29). Also, the city of Buffalo had shoreline hookups to allow the fireboats to serve as floating pumping stations supplying high pressure water to a fire hydrant system that covered the downtown area.[8] The decision was made by city officials to order a third boat that would also have icebreaking capability along with her normal firefighting duties.

    As commerce declined on Buffalo's waterfront, the Cotter was transferred from the Buffalo Fire Department to the Public Works Department in 1992 for icebreaking duties. In 1996 the Edward M. Cotter was designated a National Historic Landmark and was transferred back to the Buffalo Fire Department in 1997. The Edward M. Cotter is considered to be the oldest active fireboat in the world. Often the Cotter can be seen sailing out of berth and south-west to Lake Erie and returning north through the breakwall while firing her fire monitors.

    A non-profit group named "Friends of the Cotter", founded in 2005, has been running fund-raising events to overhaul the Cotter. Along with her normal duties the Cotter has been sent to various festivals and boat shows around the Great Lakes. In 1996 the Edward M. Cotter was designated a "National Historic Landmark" . The Edward M. Cotter is considered to be the oldest active fireboat in the world. Along with her firefighting duties, during the winter the Edward M. Cotter is used as an icebreaker on Buffalo's rivers.

    She was originally named the William S. Grattan after the first paid fire commissioner for the city of Buffalo.[7] Construction was started on March 24, 1900 and she was christened on September 5, 1900 She was originally propelled by 2 coal fired boilers During the winter months the ship is used to break up ice on the Buffalo River. It is often a "Good Will Ambassador" at waterfront festivals around the lake.

    By early 1951, the crew noticed that her machinery was starting to get tired. Her boilers were only putting out about 40-percent of their rated ability. In 1951, she had several bad fires and the crew started to notice that she didn't have the pressure and volume and wasn't her usual self. In the spring of 1951, a steam leak erupted in the engine room, trapping its crew there and scalding them very seriously. As a result of this accident, an escape hatch was built in the after end of the engine room over the main deck, similar to the ones used on submarines. As a result of these episodes, new plans were being entertained in 1952.

    Some of the city fathers felt that the Grattan had a lot more life left in her. They argued, because of her size and weight, she was still the ideal boat for Buffalo. In the fall of that year, she was drydocked and her hull was drilled and examined to see if it could stand repowering and conversion. It turned out that the original Swedish Steel lived up to its reputation. It was agreed that the only replacement of a few plates would be necessary.

    In November 1952, Grattan was stripped of all her fire fighting equipment, including the Maltese Cross that was between her stacks, and she was taken under tow to Sturgeon Bay Ship Building for conversion. While there, she had her hull reinforced and had four D397 twelve-cylinder Cat engines installed - two for propulsion and pumping, and two for pumping only. Each of these D397 Cats would pump 3750gpm. Two four-cylinder Cats for generators were also installed.

    Sam's Article - The Grattan came back to Buffalo in November 1953 sporting a new name - The Firefighter. This only lasted for about six months, when the city fathers voted to have her named Edward M. Cotter. She may have been long since forgotten in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but in Buffalo, the Edward M. Cotter has been put on The National Register of Historic Landmarks. She is still the pride of the Buffalo Fire Department. The Cotter is the jewel of Buffalo's waterfront. According to recent research, it is thought to be the oldest active fireboat in the country and possibly the world. She is still very efficient pumping 15,000-gal of water a minute.

    On 5 October 1960, the Canadian city of Port Colborne, Ontario, requested the help of the Cotter when a general alarm fire threatened the Maple Leaf Flour Mill in that city. The Buffalo fireboat made a 2.25-hour dash across Lake Erie and, upon arriving, used all five turrets and two hand lines for a total of four hours, which was a great help in saving the mill. The Cotter has been there a number of times since, in case it had to be used. Afterwards, her crew received a scroll and a plaque from a grateful mayor of the City of Port Colborne. I was on our waterfront that night and I still remember how the sky was lit up on the Canadian shore. Even today, the City of Port Colborne remembers the Cotter by inviting her and her present crew to The Canal Days Celebration, usually during the first week in August, for the festivities and to put on water demonstrations with her powerful turrets. This trip across Lake Erie was another reason she was named a Historic Landmark. She is known to be the first fireboat to cross an international border to fight a fire in another country and the only fireboat, at the time, to be totally consumed by fire.

    On 30 July 1975, a multiple alarm fire broke out at the famous West Side Rowing Club, the largest and oldest rowing club in the US. As Capt. John Terech approached the fire from the south with a 35-mph wind behind him, he figured that the building would be a total loss with all the varnished rowing shells inside the building helping to feed the fire. The flames shot up some 70-ft or better into the air. It seemed the pumpers were fighting a losing battle, so in came Cotter with all five turrets operating. In a matter of minutes, there was nothing left but smoldering ruins. The only assets that survived were a truck, a trailer and $14,000 in cash. There was no basement to save. This building had been the host club for many famous rowing races.

    In 1978, the former US Navy cruiser USS Little Rock was taking on water and listing badly. The Cotter, with her pumps along with help from several fire engines from the city, pumped water out of her hull for about five days to keep her afloat and level. The ship was repaired by a couple of off duty firefighter brother's working for Oldman's Boiler Works (Norman and Dick Stein).

    During the winter of 1983, she was called on to assist the Coast Guard cutter Ojibwa, pumping her and towing it to its Buffalo base after it had lost steering in Lake Erie and started taking on water. Cotter and three Fire Department pumpers helped keep it afloat while repairs were being made. This evened our "score" because the Coast Guard had helped us out at times too.

    On 31 July 1984, she made frontpage news in Buffalo when she assisted by towing the Polish ship Zawisza Czarny off a sand bar when the tall ship was visiting this city. In March of 1992, she was phased out of service with the Buffalo Fire Department and transferred to the Public Works Department for icebreaking and other duties.

    On 4 July 1996, Friendship Festival Day between United States and Canada, she was the highlight of the festival when she joined six of her sister fireboats that were already on The National Register of Historic Landmarks. This was a direct result of combined efforts of Mike McCarthy, who was general consul for Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, Mayor Masiello, and also myself with full encouragement from the Mayor. I had mixed feelings that day as I watched Capt. Joe Kalinowski back her into the dock at Centennial Park between US and Canada. There were many representatives from Port Colborne, Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada and the United States. I was handed a proclamation from the mayor for the efforts that I contributed toward having her put on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

    Early in 1997, she was put back under the Fire Department's jurisdiction. The Cotter is still available for icebreaking and fire or other emergency if it should occur. The first week in August 2000 was the greatest celebration she ever attended - her 100th Anniversary. There were all kinds of festivities for her: A large birthday cake contest to see who could make the largest birthday cake with known sponsors; Irish music and dancers and prizes for all the contestants; And, too make the program complete, members of her former crew were there as were many members of the Cotter family from US and quite a few from Ireland.

    Recently, the Cotter has done plenty of PR work for the city. She has been put on exhibit at different festivals and boat shows such as at Rochester, New York and, Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. As she plies the waterfront, whether for a call or giving a public demonstration, spectators on shore turn their heads in awe, hardly believing that the powerful boat plowing through the water was 105-years old on 5 September 2005. Happy Birthday Cotter!


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Retired Capt. Sam Guadagna spent more than 30-years aboard the fireboat Edward M. Cotter, becoming its skipper in 1970; retaining that capacity until the vessel was placed out of service in 1992. A native of Buffalo, Sam ran yachts and boats up and down Black Rock Channel professionally while still in high school. After serving in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, he joined the Cotter as an oiler in 1963, where he worked in every shipboard capacity until eventually earning his Master's License. Long interested in the fireboat's esteemed history, Sam began interviewing former crew members more than 25-years ago. Their distinguished legacy is embodied in the saga of this most historic vessel.

    Webpage by Don Hamilton, Buffalo firefighter retired.

    E.M.Cotter's History

    More about the Cotter

    Buffalo-Western New York Area Guide.