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National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Roll of Honor

Fire Marshal
Age: 71
Year of Death: 2013

Emil Harnischfeger

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.

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  1. I’m just really glad good people like this man existed and I have to have faith that they still do. Good people. I’m watching a fairly old documentary about firefighting and I just had to pause it and google the name of this man because I was really moved by the sincerity and certainty that he had doggedly going after these little and not so little clubs that could become the last good time someone ever had on earth if the people who are running them don’t actually listen to him and get up to code. It’s like they are just seeing in money and he’s seeing humanity and the devastation lost lives in a community actually can just change the whole world overnight and they just grumble because they have been shut down for not following the rules. We’re here at least partly why I think we’re here on earth or maybe I should say WHILE we’re here, we can look out for each other, within reason. He was obviously a man who looked out for his brother and his own community not to mention his own family must feel like someone switched off their nightlight to not have him in his place where you knew he would keep you safe to the best of his abilities. I am a musician and performer by trade and I remember when I was flying out of Cleveland to go overseas on tour, there at the airport that day I was reminded by another sentinel that no matter what happens we’re always in God’s hands and he was actually also named Emil, a retired Cleveland police officer who worked at the airport. And both of those men we are lucky to have had them. God doesn’t show me any first responders or veterans who would be anything else but heroes in my eyes and sometimes it may seem thankless but the world is not over yet and it’d be so very much worse if you were not here. Thank you for your service, Fire Marshall.

    – Pepper McGowan