" It must be true, I heard it in the kitchen"
During the early seventies, NYC found itself in the midst of a Sanitation Dept. Strike. As usual during these days, any reason was good enough for our local residents to go out and barricade the streets, cause disturbances, and just raise hell in general! It was a harrowing day for the FDNY, avoiding the barricades, responding to fires, and multiple False Alarms. I was the MPO (Motor Pump Oper) for Sq Co-4 that day, and we were returning from a 2nd alarm located at Dumont and Georgia Ave's when the Box was transmitted for Pitkin Ave and Christopher ST. E 231/L120 normally first due were still at the aforementioned job, we were ecstatic, a block away we'd surely be first due. First due we--were, and quite alone. We pulled up to the Fire Bldg., a three story frame attached to five similar bldgs. Luckily Sq-4 manned a Pumper than (experiment at the time-later all Sq Cos. were given Pumpers) and a true miracle ensued, a working hydrant right in front of the Fire Building. This was a good thing too, due to the fact that all three stories were fully involved, front to rear. As the boys went to work stretching and attempting to push in, I did my thing with the Pumps. Subsequently, we won, or ran out of buildings, I don't care to remember which. Help was a long time in getting there, or so it seemed and the Devil proceeded to do it's thing. First the Plastic Lens on the lights of the Pumper went, followed closely by the melting of the Canvas Cover. The two Tires on the Fire side deflated and the Officers window blew, while under the protection of an inch and a half, Black Snake, I merrily creeped and crawled to the Pumps and back, (a lot quicker on the back-part). Ultimately the Job went to a Fourth, but we were high, "Did some job, considering we were alone most of the time", or so I thought! About the time I figured we were going to get a good old FDNY-ATTA-BOY, I felt this very icy chill on my neck. Now considering I was roasting for the last three hours this was quite a strange feeling. I turned and there in all His Majesty was than Chief of Dept. John T. O'Hagen, his lips were curled up like a Demon, and his stare at first the remains of the Rig, then me, said very distinctly, "Your Lucky You Have A Job!" All in all it was an exciting day, but,---so much for Great Expectations
Jon P. Thomas--Ret.-Sq4/R2/R5
Jack Cunninghams kitchen story
I was working that summer day, Saturday, July 28th,1945, with Ray Hellriegel, the Official New York City fire Department Photographer on a story for W*N*Y*F. I was the 12th division representative for the quarterly Journal. This was before the establishment of the photo unit. Ray was a one man photo department operating from the tower of the Municipal building, by the courtesy of Ed Waterman, official photographer for the Board of Estimate. Ed was an ardent fire buff and had installed an alarm bell system and a tape machine that printed dots for alarms in his lab.
At 9:50 a m an alarm hit in for box 681. We had a copy of Morris Heitowits manual of Manhattan Alarm boxes and noted it was located at 5th Ave. and E. 30th St. A short while later a second alarm hit in. Ray tried to contact the Manhattan dispatcher but couldn't get through, receiving a rare busy signal. Ray said " lets go, Jack, thats near the Empire State building." He hurriedly filled a knapsack with rolls of film and flashbulbs and handed it to me, then put cameras in another bag and we set off to the elevators. On our way we heard the third alarm bells ringing.
Ray had a red chief's car at his disposal in front of the Municipal building. We rode up Broadway, with Ray driving while I pulled the bell and worked the siren. No two way radios. In no time, it seemed, we were on W. 34th St heading toward 5th Ave. A part of a wing of a plane was wobbling in the morning breeze in the middle of W. 34th St. It had rained the night before and the pavement was wet. Ray said "It looks like a plane hit a building", as he finished I looked up at the Empire State building, barely discernable thru the morning mist was the tail of a plane protuding from the upper reaches of the Empirs State.
Fire Department units were parked in front with Hoses from pumpers going toward the standpipes supplying water to the interior standpipe outlets. Ray parked the car next to the 3rd Div. Chief's car and we exited the car and headed toward the doors. Firefighters carrying their gear were in front of us. We were in civilian clothes, we pinned on our badges and followed them. No one knew what floor it struck, panic existed in the crowded lobby as people rushed out and fire personnel rushed in. The elevator starter told us the elevators only went to the 67th floor. After a fast ride up to that floor we walked up the stairs to the 78th Floor, through a lot of water underfoot with a pungent gasoline smell filling the air. Ray started to take pictures as a bisk breeze coming through a large opening in the building, with the planes tail end sticking out and the front end jammed against a wall.
We could see where one of the motors of the B-25 Air Force bomber had created a 2 inch groove in the cement floor as it slid across the floor and exited at the rear of the 78th Floor. This moter landed on the roof of a 13 story loft building on W. 33rd St. starting a fire that went to a 4th alarm. The Empire fire was a fifth. Forty minutes after the first alarm, Fire Commissioner Patrick Walsh ordered the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, alarm companies to take up. After we finished taking pictures on the 78th Floor, we were told by a Chief's driver that the havoc on the 79th floor was much worse, with a loss of life. Anxious to take more pictures, we went up the stairs to a scene of unimmaginable destruction of human bodies and offices.
Piled on top of desks were horribly burned bodies of twelve women who worked for the war effort in the offices of the Catholic War relief services. Two men also perished in the flaming gasoline that spurted from the B-25's tanks. The Army Air Force pilot a Sergeant and an enlisted men died instantly. The plane from a Massachusetts base was flying low in a heavy fog when it hit the building between the 78th and 79th floors. Going in the direction of Newark airport he didn't realize the height of the NYC buildings.
Ray snapped more photos until he ran out of film, he managed to get some of Mayor LaGuardia and Chief of Dep't. Patrick Walsh among the pictures which were printed in a subsequent story in W*N*Y*F. edited by George Hennessy and Arthur Golden who worked at the fire. Ray and I went back to the Tower lab and started to devolop and print the pictures, offering them on the phone to several New York Dailies. I was appointed a Probie on Jan. 1, 1938, retired as a Lieutenant in 1964. Ray was appointed on Jan. 1, 1939. It was one of many very exciting days I had in my 27 years in the job. Ray has passed away after a lifetime of fire photography, receiving many honors in the Fire Department and retirement.
Hi Don, Here is that story again. I made a error on the location. It was Bogart and Harrision Pl. It had been snowing for a while and we got a run to the street box. There was a night watchman standing in the doorway on the west side of Bogart St. There were footprints in the snow from where he was standing to the box and back to where he was. He was yelling that two kids pulled the box and had run down the block to Johnson Ave. A real rocket engineer.
John, Engine Company 156
Joe Rinck retired Engine Company 46