New York City firefighter and supervising fire marshal Emil Harnischfeger was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York, on August 23, 1941, to Emil and Anne Harnischfeger and his older sister, Virginia. He attended public schools and excelled in mathematics. He worshiped at Holy Trinity Church.
He was born on Bushwick Avenue and spent his childhood playing sports, his favorite being baseball. He never lost his love of the game and rooted for his beloved Yankees. He was an avid chess player.
He met his future wife, Joanne Long, at a church dance, and they were married on November 20, 1965, at Saint Nicholas RC Church in Brooklyn. Their son, David, was born in 1966. They moved to Long Island, and their son, James, came along in 1972.
Emil was appointed to the New York City Fire Department on September 14, 1968. His first assignment was Engine Company 34 in Manhattan. He was promoted to fire marshal on July 4, 1981, and then to supervising fire marshal on September 5, 1993. As a fire marshal he had the responsibility of finding the cause and origin of fires and bringing to justice those responsible for causing these blazes. He worked in every borough and did his job diligently with great expertise and pride. He was dedicated to the people of New York and to the New York Fire Department.
Both of his sons followed in his path of public service, David as a New York City police officer and James as a New York City firefighter.
On September 11, 2001, Emil was assigned to what would become known as Ground Zero. He entered the site with his head held high and worked tirelessly and selflessly in every conceivable capacity. He left the site with his head bowed in sorrow the following May. He spent the rest of his life searching for the truth behind this horrific terrorist attack. He died May 6, 2013, after a 2 ½ year battle with cancer caused by the toxic chemicals he was exposed to at Ground Zero.
To his wife, he was a knight in shining armor. To his sons, he was a protector, a guide, a steady presence, a teacher, and a dad in every sense of the word. To his grandchildren, Kevin, Amanda, Elaina, Aidan, and Liam, he was someone to love, someone to tease, someone to look up to, someone to keep them safe and to guide them. He was “Grandpa.”
Emil lived and died a man of great honor, integrity, bravery, and strength. He is missed.