Christopher Wheatley – A unique new fireboat for the City of Chicago

June 15, 2011



In April 2011, The Chicago Fire Department took delivery of a new Fireboat to replace the aging Victor L. Schlaeger. The vessel was named in memory of Firefighter Christopher Wheatley, who lost his life in active duty in 2010. The new vessel was designed by Robert Allan Ltd., Naval Architects of Vancouver BC, and was built by Hike Metal Products of (serendipitously!) Wheatley, Ontario. This fireboat is one of several fireboats designed by Robert Allan Ltd. and built in Canada for US cities in recent years, signifying one of the very few market segments available to Canadian shipyards under the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement.

The new fireboat sailed under its own power from Wheatley to Chicago through the Great Lakes.


The principal particulars of this new RAnger 2700 Class fireboat are as follows:


Length Overall
Beam, Moulded
Depth, Moulded
Maximum operating draft
Maximum Air Draft (folded mast)
– 27.42 metres (90′)
– 7.62 metres (25′)
– 3.71 metres (12’–2″)
– 2.28 metres (7.5′)
– 4.87 metres (16′)


Capacities are as follows:


Fuel oil
Potable water
Fire-fighting foam
Water ballast
– 15,708 litres (4,150 US gallons)
– 946 litres (250 US gallons)
– 3,785 litres (1,000 US gallons)
– 23,391 litres (6,180 US gallons)




As is immediately obvious from the photographs and accompanying General Arrangement drawing, this is a vessel for which the design was extremely customized to suit the operating environment. The fireboat was designed and built to operate year-round in Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and surrounding harbours, which includes up to 30 cm (1′) of first year ice. The combination of a very shallow operating draft and an equally limiting air draft presented a significant design challenge, especially regarding weight estimation: if too heavy the vessel would near the bottom of the shallow river; if too light it would run afoul of the numerous low height bridges that grace the Chicago River through downtown Chicago. The new fireboat will be used to respond to any firefighting, rescue, hazmat decontamination, dive support operations, and other waterway related responses.

As in the majority of fireboats, this vessel is set up as a “day-boat” with no crew living spaces. However the vessel provides support for the operating crew with well-equipped galley, mess and rest areas. Other major features include a dedicated EMS treatment space with a direct entry from the main deck, adjacent to which is a decontamination shower. A further EMS space is located below decks. Aft on the main deck there is a large equipment storage room which, amongst other items, houses 28 Eastern Aero Marine life rafts and 150 lifejackets for rescue purposes. Another storage space houses the SCUBA and SCBA gear. Due to the constraints on the design, many of these storage spaces are served by stainless steel roll-up doors on the sides of the deckhouse, providing large clear openings to each service or storage space.




The wheelhouse is designed to provide maximum possible visibility within the constrained geometry of the deckhouse. Sightlines forward and to the sides are excellent, but are more constricted looking aft. The wheelhouse has four distinct control centres, two for Navigation and control, and one each for Machinery Controls and Communications.

The Christopher Wheatley was built in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping regulations for Steel Vessels, but was not so classed. The vessel was also designed to comply with NFPA Type III Standards for fireboats.

The propulsion machinery consists of a pair of CAT C32 high-speed diesel engines each rated 1,081 kW at 2,300 rpm. These each drive a fixed pitch, 1371 mm diameter propeller through a ZF model W4610 reverse-reduction gearbox.

The fire-fighting capability is provided by two completely independent pump engines, also CAT model C32 diesels, each rated 745 kW at 1,800 rpm and driving an FFS model SFP250 x 350 fire pump, rated 1,590 m³ (7,000 US gallons) per hour at 10 bar (150 psi). There are four Stang fire-fighting monitors:


Centre Forward
P&S Forward
– 22,710 Lpm (6,000 gpm)
– 11,355 Lpm (3,000 gpm)
– 11,355 Lpm (3,000 gpm)


The aft monitor is located atop a hydraulically elevating mast, provided by Hunger Hydraulics C.C. Ltd. This raises the monitor to a height of 9.14 metres (30′) above the water. In addition to the main monitors, there is an array of hose manifold connections on each side and at the forward end of the fireboat. There are nine connections on each side and four connections at the forward end of the vessel.

Auxiliary power is provided by a pair of CAT model C4.4 diesel gen-sets, each rated 99 ekW.

On trials, the new fireboat met all performance expectations, with the following results:


Bollard Pull, ahead
Free running speed, ahead
– 30 tonnes
– 13 knots


For more information on this unique vessel, or on any other high-performance fireboat design, please contact us.