Excitement over the waterfront's future ought not to blind Western New Yorkers to the treasures it already holds, and one of them needs help now. Fortunately, its caretakers have found a creative way to seek that help.
The Buffalo fireboat Edward M. Cotter is a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest active fireboat in the world. Built in 1900, it rarely fights fires in a harbor with far less heavy-duty industry than it once had, but the old red fireboat still does substantial icebreaking duty during Buffalo winters and its water-cannon salutes are an indispensable ceremonial part of all major festivities on the now largely recreational waterfront.
It is, in short, a treasure -- but a tarnishing one, in a challenging environment. Last "modernized" in 1953, with an engine refit that preserved its historic external look, the Cotter needs a complete evaluation and about $250,000 worth of hull plates, rebuilt decks and repairs to its signature twin steam-engine smokestacks.
That responsibility rests with Buffalo, which owns and runs the Cotter. But the city's fiscal crisis means fireboat repairs can't be a priority, and Erie County and New York state also have cash problems. So Capt. Mike Higgins and the crew hope the private sector will help. They established a Friends of the Cotter Support Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, to accept individual and company tax-deductible donations (the foundation's at 712 Main St., Buffalo NY 14202).
It's a properly creative solution to a community problem, one that asks those who know and appreciate the historic fireboat's evolving role in this waterfront city to help voluntarily. While Buffalo still should be a proper steward of this landmark, this is a chance for those who love this region and its treasures to pick up the slack until City Hall can afford that moral mandate once again.