The Stories Behind The Stories

Harvey Eisner recalls major incidents covered by Firehouse® Magazine and shares recollections of how the information was obtained.


I have worked on stories about fires and emergencies for over 20 years for Firehouse® Magazine . This review features some of the larger and more unusual incidents I covered, and some funny and sad moments with the people who responded to and dealt with those incidents. It has been an honor and...


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I have worked on stories about fires and emergencies for over 20 years for Firehouse® Magazine. This review features some of the larger and more unusual incidents I covered, and some funny and sad moments with the people who responded to and dealt with those incidents. It has been an honor and a privilege to cover these incidents across the country. A firefighter once told me that he was grateful that I was able to go and report on the incidents because he and his fellow firefighters were unable to do so. I always believe it is best to get the story right from the scene, if possible. Here are some of my recollections of the "stories behind the stories."

I first heard about Firehouse® Magazine in 1976, before the first issue was published. Before the first issue went to press, I stopped by the first of five offices of the magazine and left some photos I had taken of a fire in the South Bronx. I would eventually become a charter subscriber.

A few months later, the first issue, September/October 1976, hit the streets. I had met Dennis Smith after his best-selling book, Report from Engine Co. 82, was published. He was working in the firehouse one day and he autographed my hardbound edition on March 11, 1972. Later, when Dennis was the Founding Editor of Firehouse®, I met him again in the Manhattan fire alarm dispatcher's office. I showed him some photos from a fire on Minneford Place and East 172nd Street, where Engine 82 was first due. In one of the photos was a firefighter from Ladder 31, Tom Neary, who worked with Dennis. It was Dennis who suggested that I send the photos to the magazine. In the summer of 1977, two half-page "Hot Shots" photos from the fire in the South Bronx were used, along with a few more of my photos.

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Photo by Harvey Eisner
A view of the Gardner's Warehouse fire from atop the West Side Highway. Fireboats supplied the Super Pumper System's large-caliber streams.

Gardner's Warehouse. On Sept. 9, 1979, there was a tremendous five-alarm fire on Manhattan's West Side. It was reported to be one of the biggest fires in New York City in 35 years. The heavy timber Gardner's Warehouse had been the scene of a five-alarm fire in the 1930s that destroyed 2,000 cars. The 1979 fire was adjacent to the West Side Highway and the Hudson River, and threatened a large Con Edison electrical power plant across the street. It took hours for the fire to break through the roof. Twenty-three engines and seven ladder companies used 13 stangs, four tower ladders, a ladder pipe and several units of the Super Pumper System. Eventually the building collapsed.

A short time later, I stopped by the magazine's offices and showed the editors the photos I had taken. They said this would make a great "On The Job" feature, and asked me who could write the story? I said I would give it a shot. I interviewed some of the firefighters and chiefs who battled the fire, then I submitted the story. The editors changed the first paragraph and left everything else. The story appeared in the November 1979 issue.

10-Alarm Fire Adjacent To FDNY Rescue 1. There had been an oil burner problem in an old, multi-story piano factory adjacent to FDNY Rescue 1 quarters on West 43rd Street in Manhattan. People in the building smelled smoke all day, but no one went next door to the firehouse. Apparently, the fire involved oil supply tanks in the basement. A geyser of heated oil blew out of the oil fill cap on the sidewalk in front of the building. The fire extended to all floors of the building.

I arrived after the third alarm . The fire went to a fourth alarm and I walked to the rear of the building, which faced 42nd Street. Fire Commissioner Joseph Spinnato lifted his hand and indicated with five fingers that the fire had just gone to a fifth alarm. I walked around to the front of the building and noticed the only way I could take a high-angle photo of the fire would be from an old-law tenement built around the turn of the century.

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