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Another Voice: Assemblyman holds open door for Edward M. Cotter fireboat

By Sharon F. Cramer

Who holds doors open? Unlike when I was young, almost everyone opens and holds doors for others. Except when they don’t. The looks on faces of people (when open doors directly ahead slam shut) are a mix of surprise and annoyance.

Chances are, no intentional hostility was meant, but rather inattention, distraction or self-absorption caused the slamming.

Something similar – a door slamming because no one thought to hold it open – can happen with places on the National Register of Historic Places. The register, established in 1966, is overseen by the National Park Service. Without some personal or civic connection to a historic place or thing, needs of register items can seem annoying, unnecessary.

A recent event showed what can happen when memories hold open a door to address an existing need. A local treasure, on the National Register since 1996, received a much-needed allocation of $500,000. The circumstances leading to that allocation began when the late Jim Ryan took his young son, Sean, to test the pumps on the Edward M. Cotter fireboat. Mr. Ryan spent his last year of service as a member of the Buffalo Fire Department working on the Cotter. Sean Ryan’s connection to the Cotter dramatically resurfaced recently in his role as a member of the Assembly.

The Cotter is unique. Built in 1900, she serves as an active fireboat, speedily getting to fires and an essential icebreaker on the Buffalo waterfront. As her website indicates, “With her pumping capacity equal to that of 11 firetrucks, her importance is immeasurable.” Annually repainted, and open for tours during Fleet Week and by appointment, the Cotter is a vital member of the Buffalo Fire Department.

However, this dowager is showing her age, with no significant rebuilding since 1953. The needs she has – a replacement of her hull, her propellers, and additional major repairs – were urgent and costly. In the face of competing priorities, the door slammed shut on the Cotter.

Assemblyman Ryan held open the door for her. Working with “Friends of the Cotter,” the Fireboat EM Cotter Conservancy, the Buffalo Fire Department and the Fire Fighters Union, he investigated what the Cotter needed. Then, he secured the funding for this 118-year-old senior citizen.

The state funding he obtained will be used for unglamorous but necessary work that will enable the Cotter to function effectively and efficiently for decades to come. Assemblyman Ryan, in partnership with the memories he has of his father, made sure that the Cotter’s future will be as proud as her past.

Sharon F. Cramer, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, is a docent at four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

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