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Decades before the advent of digital photography and decades before firefighters wore modern protective gear, Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist, Paul Thayer (1913-1977) spent thousands of hours capturing breathtaking images of firefighters at work in NYC'S busy Harlem neighborhood.

Most fire photos between 1950-70 were wide shots of fires with little or no detail of firefighter's individual heroics.
Riding the side step of Ladder Company 26 with a 35 mm "Big Box" camera in hand, Paul Thayer captured crystal clear, up close images of Harlem Truckies and Engine men doing what they do best
After processing prints in the basement of Ladder 26, Engine 58, "The Fire Factory," Paul would give them, free of charge, to the Firefighter's who were his subjects.
Paul wrote "Fire Flies", a weekly column in the Civil Service Leader that carried first hand accounts of meritorious acts and other items of interest to firefighters.
In the face of wholesale firehouse closings, during the "War Years", "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 reporting by barring him from Fire Department property amid threats to revoke his Honorary Deputy Chief's status, awarded years earlier in recognition for his service to the FDNY.

Undeterred, Paul 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.

Photos containing Paul 's name are courtesy of John Dwyer, former FDNY Supervising Dispatcher and lifelong fire buff whose photos can be viewed at

Unsigned photos are from the personal collection of Mike Higham, former Firefighter at Ladder Company 14, East Harlem.

Fire Photography is an art and Paul Thayer was a Master. A discussion of Paul Thayer's contribution to his craft is featured on the Gettin Salty Experience Podcast, Episode 77 on Youtube, "Mike Higham, Ladder 14". For questions and comments, message Mike Higham on facebook or email


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