Hackensack Firefighter Fatalities. Five Hackensack, NJ, firefighters were killed while battling a fire in an automobile dealership on July 1, 1988. A wooden bowstring truss collapsed 36 minutes after receipt of the first alarm. I did not learn of the fire until the 5 o'clock TV news. I went to...
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Months after the fire, a fire inspector for the State of New Jersey was making his rounds in Passaic. He was to inspect a building, but could not locate the address. All he could see for block and blocks were bricks from the collapse and demolition of the buildings consumed by the fire. Way in the distance, off the road, the inspector saw an auto repair shop. He drove over and asked inside if anyone could help him find this certain address. The shop owner said, "Are you kidding? Because you're a little late - that address was for one of the buildings that burned down!"
Devil's Night In Detroit. I traveled to Hamtramck, MI, in September 1984 to cover a fire in an 1,100-by-700-foot, multi-story, two-building complex that housed among other items numerous classic cars. Detroit sent 25 engines and seven ladders to the scene on mutual aid to Hamtramck. One of the Detroit ladder companies had to reposition seven times during the fire because the complex was so large.
Photo by Harvey Eisner
Devil's Night in Detroit. This structure was fully involved when I reached the scene, awaiting the arrival of fire apparatus. During a three-day period in 1984, there were 950 alarms, of which 250 were building fires.
While in Detroit, I was told, "If you want to see some action, come back in a month to see Devil's Night," the night before Halloween. I talked to the editor and he said OK. I went to Detroit a few days early. Over the next three-day period, there were over 900 alarms, of which 250 were for building fires. In one night, I went to more than 20 building fires. At some of the fires a few companies were operating, but at others there were no companies on the scene for quite some time. (From 1968 through 1984, Detroit units had gone out to surrounding communities on mutual aid 75 times. On this night, for the first time, nearly 20 neighboring departments were requested into Detroit to battle the blazes.)
After seeing the national news coverage in the morning about the fires in Detroit, the publisher, Bruce Bowling, told the editor that we should get someone out there. He was told "Harvey's already there, he's been there for three days." The coverage appeared in our February 1985 issue. In his editorial, Dennis Smith wrote that we normally cover fires after they occur - this was the first time we covered any fires before they happened! The following year, as I stepped off the jet in Detroit, I was met by a reporter who wanted to interview me immediately. Because we told the truth, there was coverage from all over the world. I traveled to Detroit from 1984 to 1987 and each year the activity dropped. The Detroit firefighters certainly had their hands full.
"Backdraft." I received a call from actor Robert DeNiro's office. They wanted someone to review a script for an upcoming movie titled "Backdraft." I said I would look at it. I met with DeNiro in his office and we went over the script, especially his part, line by line for two hours. I gave him photos, articles and other material about his role as a fire investigator.
When we finished, I felt that I had told him as much as I could regarding his part and firefighting, investigation and the fire service. I was going to ask him for an autographed picture for the people in the office and others when he asked me, "Do you go these fires often?" Yes, I answered. He said, "Here's my home number. Give me a call and I'll go with you."
Chernobyl. The fire chief from Chernobyl, where more than 20 firefighters died following a nuclear plant accident, made a presentation at the Firehouse Expo. The chief had been on vacation at the time and was called in to the scene. He was accompanied by a Soviet general and a Russian-language interpreter. A reporter from People magazine followed his every move for two or three days. Editor Janet Kimmerly and I sat in on a portion of the interview. We were scheduled to interview the chief the following morning.
Photo by Harvey Eisner
An exclusive interview with the Chernobyl fire chief was conducted with a Russian interpreter under the supervision of a Soviet general.
The interpreter asked the reporter how long the article in People was going to be and did she want to know everything from when he was in kindergarten?