Though Seattle's newest fireboat slowly cruised into Elliott Bay nearly a half-hour late Tuesday, the celebration was still marked with...

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Though Seattle’s newest fireboat slowly cruised into Elliott Bay nearly a half-hour late Tuesday, the celebration was still marked with bagpipes and photo-snapping onlookers.

The 108-foot Leschi spouted water and motored in circles along the waterfront outside Fire Department Station 5 on Alaskan Way. The $12 million boat, which can spray 24,000 gallons of water per minute, is the largest vessel in the department’s four-boat fleet.

“With the addition of the Leschi to our firefighting fleet, we have a powerful new boat that can respond to emergencies on the water and along the shoreline,” Mayor Greg Nickels said in a statement. “The Leschi is an important step toward our goal of making Seattle safer and more prepared.”

Sharon Nickels, the mayor’s wife, christened the Leschi. She, Nickels, Fire Chief Gregory Dean and Seattle third-grader Kadi Camara, who named the boat in a contest open to schoolchildren, rode the Leschi to the Elliott Bay fire station from Shilshole Marina.

The Leschi and the 8-month-old Engine 1 were purchased as part of a $167 million levy approved by Seattle voters in 2003. The Leschi will replace the 80-year-old Alki, a vessel that will be retired, said Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick.

With the Leschi in use, the Chief Seattle, a 24-year-old fireboat stationed on Elliott Bay, will be sent in to be renovated, Fitzpatrick said.

The Leschi will be docked on Elliott Bay and 45-foot Engine 1 will stay at Fishermen’s Terminal, Fitzpatrick said. That could change when the Chief Seattle returns to service.

Deployment of Seattle’s fireboats came under scrutiny after a July 5 fire destroyed two large National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) piers and two smaller piers, coming within 100 yards of houseboats on South Lake Union.

The first Seattle Fire Department vessel got to the blaze about a half hour after it was reported.

The Seattle Fire Department has only one crew on duty at any given time to man its boats, Fitzpatrick said. That crew is stationed at the Elliott Bay station.

On July 5, it took a half-hour for the crew to drive from Elliott Bay to the fireboat Alki, then stationed at Fishermen’s Terminal, before it could reach the scene of the fire. A second crew had to drive from home to the Elliott Bay station to man the Chief Seattle. It took three hours for the crew to get to the station and take the boat to Lake Union.

Fitzpatrick said that with the Leschi joining the fleet, she’s unsure whether the department will be able to react quicker to fires in the Lake Union area.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or