Women's History: From Volunteer Day to 9/11 Hero

  • March 18, 2022
A woman with short hair and a khaki baseball cap shows a group of small children around a ship's engine room
Jessica DuLong leads an engine room tour for children
A woman with cropped hair wearing a black tank top and red earphones while working in a ship's engine room
DuLong at work

In April 2001, Jessica DuLong became the first female engineer aboard the John J. Harvey, the since-retired fireboat. She had never considered working in the engine room aboard a boat, but fell in love with it after a volunteer day, describing the experience as “finding a taste of home she hadn’t realized was missing.” Just five months later, Jessica and the John J. Harvey would play a pivotal role in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. 

A group of men and woman at the captain's wheel of a small boat, with river  in the background

The retired New York City fireboat John J. Harvey helped in the evacuation and then the supplying of water to fire department hoses at Ground Zero when water mains were knocked out. Harvey’s crew includes (from left) Jessica DuLong, Tim Ivory, Huntley Gill and Robert Lenney. Photo: Andrew Garn

On September 11, all railroads, bridges, and tunnels in Manhattan were eventually shut down, leaving many with no way to get home. Unsure of where to go, some evacuees and survivors ended up on the edge of Battery Park City, alongside the Hudson River. Ferries, dinner boats, and other New York Harbor vessels including the John J. Harvey mobilized immediately.

DuLong and her crew, along with two other FDNY fireboats, supplied water to land-based firefighters for 80 hours until lower Manhattan's mains were restored. By the end of the day, the maritime community had evacuated 500,000 people in less than nine hours – the largest boat evacuation in modern history. In an article published in September 2021 honoring the 20th anniversary of the attacks, DuLong referred to the mariners' efforts as a way to “remind us of our capacities for hope and humanity.”  

DuLong went on to became a U.S Coast Guard-licensed Merchant Marine officer and one of the world’s only female fireboat engineers. Her work continues to inspire two decades later. She authored two books, “My River Chronicles” and “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift” (Three Hills/Cornell University Press, 2021), which chronicles the story behind the 9/11 boat lift through eyewitness accounts, and personal stories from rescuers and those rescued. DuLong and the John J. Harvey also became the subject of Maira Kalman’s children’s book “Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey,” published in 2002. Today DuLong continues to work as a journalist, author, historian, and chief engineer of the retired John J. Harvey. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we honor her bravery and heroism on 9/11.  

By Nicole Torres, Education Specialist

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