Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.

Paterson Riverside Station - Photo by Dr. Thomas Dayspring

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Firefighting is a dangerous business and over the years a number of Paterson firefighters have died or been injured in the line of duty - including five men at the Quackenbush Co. department store warehouse on March 12, 1938.

A deputy chief and the crew of Engine Co. 5 were buried in the rubble of a collapsed wall at Box 474 - 51-55 Prospect St. - after the four-alarm fire had been extinguished.

``Only two or three fire crews were at the scene when tonight's tragedy occured, their job being not only to wet down the ruins but also to remove debris that might endanger public safety,'' The New York Times reported. ``At the time the wall collapsed, the firemen were devising a means to to pull it down because they knew it was in danger of falling.''

The fallen:

  • Deputy Chief James Sweeny, 58
  • Capt. John Davenport, 44, of Engine 5
  • Fireman Louis Rodesky, 49, of Engine 5
  • Fireman Matthew O'Neill, 45, of Engine 5
  • Fireman William Lynch, 37, of Engine 5
Five other firefighters were injured, according to The Times. Fireman William McCorry suffered smoke inhalation. Captain Paul Schaub was hurt during the collapse. Firemen John Heinzelman, John Farrell and Robert Travis suffered cuts to their hands.

Several years earlier - on May 8, 1934 - nine Paterson firemen were injured when a wall collapsed at a fire at St. Bonaventure's Lyceum on Ramsey Street.

The Quackenbush fire was the third incident in a decade to claim the life of more than one Paterson firefighter.

On May 7, 1934, two firemen - John O'Neill of Engine 9 and Allen Saal of Truck 3 - were fatally injured at Box 413, the St. Bonaventure Lyceum at Carlisle Avenue and Ramsey Street.

On April 27, 1928, two firemen - Edward Tribe of Engine 1 and Marinus Baker of Engine 4 - died at Box 451, the Linn's Economy Drug Goods store at 135 Main St., according to The Times.

Tragedy struck again during the War Years.

Two members - Fireman August Schneider and Auxiliary Fireman William Conklin, both of Engine 4 - were
 fatally injured in a vehicle accident at Grand and Mill streets on Aug. 19, 1942.

Other firefighters have made the Supreme Sacrifice, according the 1985 history book ``Taking The Heat,'' the National Firefighters Memorial and newspaper accounts:
  • On July 9, 1891, Callman James Moser, of Engine 1, was killed by the bursting of a soda water tank.
  • On May 5, 1893, Callman Christopher Murphy, of Truck 3, fell from the appartus.
  • On Jan. 15, 1904, Fireman Harry Kelley, of Engine 7, and two others fell from a ladder at the Hinchliffe Brewery fire. Kelley died and Capt. James O'Neill and Fireman Thomas McGill were injured. The brewery was located at Governor and Ann Streets.
  • On Aug. 11, 1909, Acting Assistant Chief William Cook suffered burns at the Zabriske Stables fire.
  • On March 31, 1931, Fireman David Johnstone, of Engine 8, struck by a car at the Manhattan Hotel fire on Market Street.
  • On July 26, 1951, Chief's Aide Joseph Dow killed in a wreck at Broadway and Madison Avenue.
  • On March 4, 1961, Capt. Lester Reiche, of Engine 7, collapsed at a fire on Ellison Street.
  • On March 1, 1973, Capt. Frank Mancinelli, of Truck 3, fell from a roof at a three-alarm fire on Paterson Street.
  • On April 5, 1975, Capt. Fred Armona, of Engine 11, died in a roof collapse at the Christian Reformed Church fire at Fourth Avenue and East 19th Street.
  • On May 8, 1978, Firefighter Thomas Calamita, of Engine 2, collapsed at a fire on Lyons Street.
  • On Jan. 17, 1991, Firefighter John A. Nicosia, 28, of Engine 4, went missing in a fire that started at the old Meyer Brothers Department Store at 161 Main Street and spread to other buildings. His body was located two days later.
  • On Oct. 24, 1998, Firefighter Walter Bitner, 38, of Engine 5, died of injuries sustained in an apparatus accident a decade earlier. Bitner had been paralyzed.