Photos from Collection of Bruno Wendt, Paterson Fire History - Top: Paterson Engine Co. 1's crew pumps foam. Deputy Chief William Comer, later Chief of Department, foreground. Center: Truck Co. 2 with aerial up, Squad Co. 1. Bottom: Early stage of fire.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2019
Paterson's old police headquarters was the scene of two major fires two decades apart.
On Feb. 8, 1980, a general alarm fire gutted the structure at 111 Washington St.
Box 171 was transmitted at 4:25 p.m. and flames burned - almost unchecked - for five hours.
Firefighters resorted to pumping foam into the basement to contend with exploding ammunition and popping tear gas canisters.
The 77-year-old stone structure - described by The New York Times as "ornate" - had been showing its age and was abandoned after the blaze.
Detective Nat Davis was waiting to go out on assignment. In an instant, "all I saw was smoke coming through the walls, the floor" Davis told the Paterson News. "I started yelling, `Fire. Fire.' You couldn't see anything. We had to hold the doors so people could get out."
Two inmates were evacuated from a lockup and police dispatchers moved swiftly into position at police headquarters in neighboring Prospect Park, the News said.
Temporary quarters were established at the old Central High School building. The police department was already scheduled to move into the new Public Safety Complex on Broadway that spring.
Flames visited the old headquarters on May 18, 1963 when a fire in a padded cell killed three prisoners and injured 11 others, including two firefighters, the Morning Call reported.
"The padded cell that burned was supposed to be fire proof," the newspaper reported.
Police suspected a prisoner started the fire. Flames were confined to the cell, which had been constructed two years earlier. The Associated Press reported fumes from the foam rubber padding caused the deaths and injuries.
In a macabre twist, in September 2016, a body was discovered locked in a cell in the long-vacant structure, with officials estimating the person had been dead about a decade.
In 2019, the building re-opened, "meticulously restored to house office suites," the Paterson Times reported.