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Powering the World's Oldest Fireboat

From fighting devastating fires and fatal explosions to smashing through 2’ of ice during the frigid Buffalo winters, the Edward M. Cotter fireboat has protected and served the city of Buffalo, NY, for over 120 years. The 178-ton vessel has doused the flames of numerous warehouses, grain elevators, and other factories along Buffalo’s waterfront all backed by the power of Caterpillar engines and generators.

The boat’s heroic battle began in 1900 when the coal-powered vessel was built under the name of William S. Grattan. The Grattan was severely damaged in 1928 after responding to a fire on an oil barge. After burning 17 hours, the barge drifted into a moored oil tanker causing an explosion which engulfed the Grattan.

The Buffalo Fire Department (BFD) rebuilt the boat and it continued to defend Buffalo’s waterways until 1953 when it was overhauled and renamed Firefighter. During the refit, the boilers and steam engines were replaced by four 475hp CAT D397 engines, the firefighting pumps were replaced, the single propeller was converted to twin propellers, and the fixed firefighting platform became a hydraulically-operated platform. The five new fire monitors pumped 15,000 gallons of water per minute at 160 PSI. Shortly after the rebuild, the vessel was renamed to honor the late Edward M. Cotter, a respected Buffalo firefighter and president of the local firefighter’s union.

In October of 1960, the Cotter crossed into international waters for the first time to aid the Port Colborne Fire Department in Ontario, Canada. With no navigational equipment of its own, the U.S. Coast Guard escorted the vessel on its voyage to control the fire that broke out at the Maple Leaf Milling Company’s grain elevators. Within four hours of the fireboat’s arrival, the fire was out.

For five days in 1978, the Edward M. Cotter tirelessly pumped water out of the sinking USS Little Rock, a retired U.S. Naval guided missile cruiser. The fireboat assisted the disabled U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ojibwa during the winter of 1983 by towing her back to base and keeping her afloat while the repairs were made.

The National Parks Service designated the Cotter as a “National Historic Landmark” on July 4th, 1996.

The 1953 12-cylinder engines still power the fireboat today. The two forward engines pump water. The aft engines are used for pumping or propulsion. The boat’s utility power was supplied by two CAT D311 gen sets up until 2019 when they were upgraded to new C2.2 gen sets. Milton CAT’s Tonawanda Service Manager Sam Kasinski explained, “The propulsion, pump, and generator engines that have operated in Buffalo’s fireboat for over 65 years are a testament to the engineering and strength of CAT equipment. We have the privilege of supporting the vessel’s caretakers by working closely with them to find the parts they need to keep operating. It has been a great experience to learn about these engines and see the evolution of the CAT engine from back then to today, as well as establish relationships with talented customers and people. Not to mention how cool it is that CAT is tied to a historical boat that protects the Buffalo harbors from fires and breaks ice in the winter!”

The Edward M. Cotter is docked at BFD’s engine NO. 20 and is stationed by Captain John Sixt and Engineer Jack Kelleher. “It’s truly an honor to work on such an invaluable asset of fire protection and an important symbol of Buffalo’s history. And who doesn’t want to be on the water every day?” Captain Sixt remarked.

Thank you to the Buffalo Fire Department for your service. Milton CAT is proud to support the Edward M. Cotter.

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