The steam powered fire boat

Most fireboats today have been replaced by fleets of speedy land-based vehicles, but back in the19th century they were used for fighting fires in and around the UK’s ports. Reporting on the introduction of one such boat, The Engineer described a ’new powerful floating steam fire-engine’ designed by Merryweather and Sons to tackle blazes that broke out in areas on and near the river.

A demonstration of the system took place in the presence of Earl Carrington, chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee of the London Country Council. ’A 1¾-inch jet of water was thrown with ease 200ft high, while good results were attained with two 1¼-inch jets, three one-inch jets, and as many as eight smaller jets, thrown simultaneously,’ wrote The Engineer. ’The boat can thus attack a fire on shore or amongst shipping from all sides at once.’

By 1896, steam fire engines had been established for several decades. However, developing a portable steamer presented engineers with the challenge of designing a system capable of carrying large quantities of water, while also keeping weight down to maintain mobility.

The report described how this difficulty was overcome by ’having when afloat an unlimited supply of water’. It added that the boat was able to create steam in 10 minutes from the time of lighting a fire and could reach speeds of nine knots an hour.

The article continued: ’The boat-propelling machinery consists of a pair of double-cylinder engines of inverted cylinder type… Suction is taken through a strainer on one side of the boat or through ordinary suction hose and strainer attached to a deck plate, a valve being fitted so that either may be used. By this means the pumps may be utilised for salvage and other purposes, as well as for fire extinction.’