John J. Harvey was Pilot of the steam fireboat Thomas Willett, assigned to Engine Co. 86 at Bloomfield Street.
On February 11, 1930 a fire broke out aboard the North German Lloyd Lines ship Muenchen at North River Pier 42, Morton Street.
Willett came alongside and her crew started working aboard the burning ship. Soon a series of terrible explosions tore through Muenchen. One of the worst caused serious damage to the fireboat and swept men overboard.
John J. Harvey, knocked over the side by a section of steel plate, was killed instantly. His body was recovered from the river four hours later.
It was quickly announced that the new fireboat to be built in Brooklyn would be named in his honor. This was the first time a fireboat was named for a member of the Fire Department.
In the 1920's the New York City Fire Department's fleet of 10 steam fireboats was aging, and it was decided to construct a new fireboat with internal combustion power.
Basic plans were prepared in 1928. Contracts were drawn up and construction started in 1930 by Todd Shipbuilding's Plant at the foot of 23rd Street on Brooklyn's Gowanus Bay.
Launching took place on October 6, 1931 with the boat completed and placed in commission on December 17, 1931.
Harvey's dimensions are 130' long with a 28' beam and a 9' draft. She is of steel construction with a riveted hull. Propulsion is by twin screws six feet in diameter.
She was the largest, and most powerful fireboat in the world when built. More importantly, she was the model of modern fireboat engineering, and set the pattern for all subsequent fireboats to follow.