“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling."
-Chief Edward F. Croker FDNY circa 1910
A search of famous firefighting quotes will turn up Edward F Croker at the top. Croker sure had his way words for the fire service, but who was he?
Edward Franklin Croker was appointed to the FDNY on June 22nd, 1884. He was only 21 years of age. Just shy of 50 days on the job, Croker was promoted to Assistant Foreman (Lieutenant), and again, another promotion a mear few months later to Foreman (Captain) of Engine 1. Croker's uncle, Richard Croker, was Fire Commissioner from 1883 - 1887, and one of the most powerful political figure in New York City as the head of Tammany Hall. In it's early years, the City was growing as was the need for the Fire Service. Edward Croker proved to be a great firefighter and through his career, a great leader. January 22nd 1892, Croker was promoted to Battalion Chief. May 1, 1899 he was appointed Acting Chief of Department and June 29, 1899 named Chief of Department. Many thought Croker's ties with Tammany Hall was a stepping stone, potentially to Mayor. Croker denied any ambition with the following stirring words:
“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling. There is an adage which says that, "Nothing can be destroyed except by fire." We strive to preserve from destruction the wealth of the world which is the product of the industry of men, necessary for the comfort of both the rich and the poor. We are defenders from fires of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men and the means of refinement of mankind. (But, above all; our proudest endeavor is to save lives of men-the work of God Himself. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice. Such considerations may not strike the average mind, but they are sufficient to fill to the limit our ambition in life and to make us serve the general purpose of human society.”
Chief Croker did his best to modernize his department, donating the 1st motorized chief's car and attempted to streamline communications between firemen during emergencies.
He was an outspoken advocate of improving fire safety throughout the city's commercial and residential buildings. He warned that many of the buildings around the city that housed manufacturing operations were disasters waiting to happen. In 1894, he testified before the Tenement House committee that a fatal fire was due in part to "the combustible nature of the building and it's open construction." His unheeded warnings were personified on March 25th 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. After the Triangle Waist Factory Fire, suspecting that he could do little to advance his cause within the politicized tangle of government red tape, Croker turned over his command to Deputy Chief John Kenlon at 8:00AM. Edward F. Croker served twelve years the Chief of the New York City Fire Department and for twenty-seven years as an active fireman. Croker’s twenty-seven years of service had seen the administration of twenty-two Commissioners. Croker spent the next 40 years in fire prevention, his company was a leader in Fire Prevention and exists today. (https://www.crokerfiredrill.com/ ). In 1914, Croker built a completely fireproof house in Long Beach which still stands today at 116 Lindell Blvd corner of West Penn Street. This was said to be the 1st of it's kind. His house warming party was covered by the New York Times. According to the Times' story, Croker brought all of his guests to the 2nd floor of his home, where the walls, floors and rafters were made of cement, the doors, trimmings and furniture of metal and interestingly enough, the carpets and furniture coverings of asbestos. He poured a few gallons of gasoline into the room, lit a match then shut the room's metal door and dined with his guests in the next room. The fire was confined to the room and beyond a reported crack in the metal wire of the room's window, the room remained undamaged.
August 30, 1912- Edward F. Croker, was elected Generalissimo of the Long Beach Fire Department. Chief Croker stated that he proposed in the near future to call out the men under his command regularly every night for drill. In Long Beach, he had within ten days a fire combination truck, a staff of ten prominent volunteer firefighters, and a uniform of black trousers, blue shirts and red helmets, designed so that wealthy volunteer firemen could wear their uniform to social functions and not have to go home to change in case of a fire.
February 7, 1951, Chief Croker died at a nursing home in Lindenhurst at the age of 87.
“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.” -Edward Croker, February 1908.