Sometimes being a writer of thriller novels causes you to go places and do things you might otherwise never think of. Like the other day when background research for my novel about an earthquake and tsunami in Seattle led me to venture aboard the fireboat Leschi. This powerful and ultramodern ship is the pride of Seattle Fire Department’s fireboat fleet and a force to be reckoned with when fire or other mishap strikes on the waterfront.
The overall impression when you step aboard the Leschi is ‘Man! She’s big!’ At 108 feet long and bristling with water cannon called ‘monitors’ (as in Monitor and Merrimack, maybe?) this vessel was built to eliminate fire quickly and decisively. Below decks, her engine room is filled with four giant engines that you have to see to believe. Hopefully the image at left will help. That’s one of the water-pump engines. To give you a sense of its scale, a six-foot man could stand on the corrugated walkway beside the row of cylinders running down its length, and not see over the top (I know because I’ve been there, tried that). How else can I describe its eminent mass? Bigger than a rhinoceros, smaller than an elephant. Does that help? How about just plain huge? Furthermore, there are four of these things in the engine room, all shiny red and gleaming—and gigantic. Two of them are there to turn the ship’s twin propellers, while two of them draw fire-dowsing seawater through openings under the hull and propel it into the red manifold pipes you see above the engine, which in turn take it to the deck ‘guns,’ which send it arching to the fire.
And who commands all this power? The Leschi responds to emergencies with a fire response team of four people: a pilot to get the boat where she needs to go, an engineer to target the deck guns and manage the ship’s crane and ladder, a deck hand to manage a thousand-and-one other critical tasks, and a captain, who manages communications and makes key decisions when things get hot.
It was this latter person who showed me around his amazing craft. Lieutenant Robert Kerns is shown here on deck in front of the Leschi’s wheelhouse, from which he and his team command the Leschi’s dramatic, sometimes life-and-death missions. But on this fine Seattle day with no emergency to respond to, he had the time to show an astonished citizen like me around his boat, earning my deep gratitude for his time, and my admiration for what he and his team can do when an emergency beckons.
So, thank you LT Kerns. Be assured that the Leschi and her brave crew will figure prominently in my upcoming novel. And hopefully I’ll get the details right now that you have taken the time to explain them to me!