Fire scene photos from 1950s-60s’ East Harlem now on website

ELLAMORE  — A newly created website will allow the world to see fire scene photographs from East Harlem, New York City captured by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer and friend of the fire service.

Thirty-nine photos from Paul Thayer are now online at and can be viewed and even downloaded for free.

Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department member Mike Higham wanted to make the photos accessible to the public to recognize Thayer, who he befriended during his time with Fire Department of New York Ladder Company 14, and the work of the FDNY.

Higham began his fire service career Sept. 14, 1968 after the photos on the website were already taken. Most are from the 1950s and early 1960s.

“While working at Ladder 14, I befriended Paul Thayer, a fire buff and Pulitzer prize winning photo journalist, whose dedication to documenting the heroics of FDNY firefighters resulted in his being awarded the department’s highest civilian honor of honorary deputy chief,” Higham said.

“Decades before the advent of digital photography and decades before firefighters wore modern protective equipment, Paul spent thousands of hours riding with Harlem fire companies capturing up-close images of firefighters at work that rank among the best in the history of fire photography,” he said.

“These pictures are very special. Most of the pictures during that era had the focus on the fire and not what the firefighters were doing. His were upclose of the people and you don’t see too many like that. Just the way he composed his pictures was really something. ”

Thayer even obtained permission to operate a dark room out of Rescue Company 1 where he would develop his prints and give them for free to the firefighters who were his subjects.

Thayer continued to photograph up until his death in 1977 at the age of 64.

“My wife and I were really good friends with Paul Thayer and his wife and when he passed, we went to visit her and pay our respects,” Higham said. “As we were leaving, she went in to her closet and pulled out this box of 11-by-14 prints and wanted to give them to me.”

Higham agreed to take them and held on to the box for nearly 40 years.

“A couple years ago, I donated them to the fire department museum with the stipulation that they make me copies,” he said.

The New York City Fire Museum did make copies for Higham and retains the originals.

But Higham still wanted to make sure that the public got to see as many of the images as possible. He found help with a website and was born.

“Most of the photos that are on the website were in the box,” he said.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photo is not one of the images that were gifted to Higham.

“This website is a timeless tribute to both the firefighters I worked with in New York and West Virginia as well as those who selflessly serve in every community throughout the United States,” he said.

To find out more, visit the website and click on the link that is an interview with Higham.

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