Historic Seattle fireboat heading to the auction block

SEATTLE -- A piece of Seattle history that has been putting out fires since 1928 is heading to for the auction block.

The Alki might be rough around the edges now, but in her day the vintage vessel was billed as the world's largest fire boat.

"You pick a pier fire or a ship fire that's occurred in Seattle since that time, and this boat has been at it doing what it needs to do," assistant Seattle Fire Chief A.D. Vickery said the Alki, which has seen action on fresh and salt water.

Vickery said the boat has a pumping capacity of more than 16,000 gallons, which might have been considered overkill in the 1920s if not for the fact that Seattle was full of wooden piers on the waterfront.

The Alki spent Thanksgiving in 1968 pouring water on Todd Shipyard, where a firefighter died.

"This is a part of our history. It's a part of our culture, but you can't keep it in your heart when it costs money to operate and we have better ways of doing things," Vickery said.

On Monday, the Alki is heading to an online auction, where bidding will begin at $1. That leaves cash to cover 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

"There's a total 16 diesel engines in the engine room," said fireboat engineer Dick Chester.

Voters approved a levy to enhance Seattle's marine firefighting program, and the aging Alki requires more staff than the newer, more technologically-advanced boats.

Alki's engineer still communicates to the wheelhouse using an old telegraph, and the boat fought her last fire on South Lake Union in the summer of 2006.

"It was the first boat to respond and pumped continuously at that fire and maneuvered for 19 hours," Chester said of the July 4 fire.

Firefighters hopes the boat is restored as a reminder of the past and not purchased for scrap. The money raised at the auction will help sustain Seattle's three other fireboats.