Paul Thayer was a Fire Buff and Pulitzer Prize
Winning Photo Journalist whose dedication to documenting the
heroic deeds of FDNY Firefighters resulted in his being awarded
the Department's highest civilian honor, Honorary Deputy Chief.
During the 20 year period prior to the "War Years", 1950- 1970,
Paul spent thousands of hours riding the side step of Ladder
Company 26 with a 35 mm “Big Box” camera in hand capturing
crystal clear, up close images of Harlem Firefighters doing what
they do best.
Paul processed prints in darkrooms located in different Harlem
firehouses including Ladder 26 Engine 58, “The Fire Factory”,
Engine 69 and others. After making prints, he would give them
(free of charge) to the firefighters who were his subjects.
Paul wrote “Fire Flies, a column in the Civil Service Leader
that carried first hand accounts of meritorious acts by and
other items of interest to firefighters.
Paul was not one to pull punches when it comes to policies that
harm Firefighters or the citizens they are sworn to protect. In
the face of wholesale firehouse closings, primarily in NYC's
most fire prone neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx,
“Fire Flies” became a running account of Firefighter and
civilian deaths and injuries related to the cuts.
Fire Commissioner, John T. O'Hagan, reacted to Paul's columns by
barring him from Fire Department property amid threats to revoke
Paul's Honorary Deputy Chief's designation.
Undeterred, Paul Thayer continued to document the disastrous
toll fire department cutbacks were taking on firefighters and
civilians until his death in 1977.
At Paul Thayer's funeral, his flag draped casket was carried in
the hose bed of a pumper as firefighters lined the street to
give a final salute to one who they rightfully considered to be
one of their own!!!