Razzle dazzled! Historic fireboat gets eye-popping paint job in public art project

The John J. Harvey fireboat was given a twist on the “dazzle camouflage” paint scheme, which was popular on the high seas during World War One.
Photo by Milo Hess


A historic fireboat that assisted emergency workers during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has gotten a trippy new paint job inspired by an oddball camouflage scheme that was popular on the high seas during WWI.

The John J. Harvey’s new “razzle dazzle” paint job — compliments of artist Tauba Auerbach and the Public Art Fund — combines the water-born fire engine’s normal red-and-white color scheme with the flowing, geometric patterns that the British Royal Navy once used in an attempt to evade German submarines during the Great War.

British marine artist Norman Wilkinson designed the unique form of camouflage not to hide from German U-boats but rather to confuse torpedo gunners with the profusion of disjointed shapes and colors. But the eccentric camouflage scheme wasn’t the game changer he hoped it would be — dazzle ships were sunk about as often as non-dazzle ships — and the striking paint jobs fell out of favor.

And while the John J. Harvey never had to dodge German torpedoes, the classic 1931 fireboat is chock full of history, serving New York’s Bravest with its powerful water pump until it was decommissioned in 1994.

A non-profit organization created by local preservationists purchased the fireboat after it was pulled from service, docking it at Pier 66 in Chelsea, from where the John J. Harvey gives free tours of New York harbor.

But the fireboat was pulled back into service following a water main break during 9/11, with its captain quickly unloading passengers before cruising full steam ahead towards Ground Zero, where it served for 80 hours, until water service could be restored.

The John J. Harvey will retain its Great War-inspired paint job until mid-May 2019, after which its classic FDNY colors will be restored.

Photo by Milo Hess

Artist Tauba Auerbach designed the paint job.
Photo by Milo Hess

Photo by Milo Hess

Photo by Milo Hess

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