As we continue to document the research we have compiled on every building and site in the East Village, we run across some incredible stories of the neighborhood’s history. Such is the case for a site at 358-362 East 8th Street, a lush green oasis in the middle of the block between Avenues C and D. Our research led us to the tragic tale of how this community garden came to be known as the Fireman’s Memorial Garden. As part of our series, ‘What’s In A Name?,’ we thought that we would look into the reason for this nomenclature.
The garden pays homage to the memory of Martin R. Celic (1952-1977), a young member of Ladder Company 18 who lost his life fighting a fire in the tenement that once stood here.
On July 2, 1977 an arsonist set a fire on the fifth floor of the abandoned building that once stood on this site. When the firefighters arrived, the blaze was spreading through the building. After the firemen entered the building, the arsonist went back inside and started a fire on the floors below them, trapping the firemen inside. Unfortunately arson and abandoned buildings were all too common in the East Village at the time.
The only escape route for the firefighters was to crawl onto the fire escape and jump to the cherry picker which was raised to the fifth floor. Struggling through smoke and with heavy equipment on his back, Marty Celic missed the ladder bucket and fell to the ground. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he died eight days later.
Celic received the Fire Department Medal of Valor, the Medal of Supreme Sacrifice from the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the United Firefighters Officers Association and was honored as Fireman of the Year by the Crime Victims’ Rights Organization. In recognition of his memory, Celic’s fellow fire fighters advocated for the renaming of the southwest corner of Pitt and Delancey Streets, in front of his firehouse, to Martin R. Celic Plaza which was dedicated in 1979. They also fought to have the building at 358 East 8th Street demolished.
Neighbors Ansley and Kelly Carnahan had been gardening in the lot next to the abandoned building two years before the fateful fire. After the building was torn down, the garden was expanded to include the lot, and it was named the Fireman’s Memorial Garden.
A special ceremony is held in mid-July in the garden in remembrance of the sacrifices of all New York City firemen. And every year there is a 4-mile run held in Staten Island, now known as the Marty and Tom Celic Memorial Run, (sadly Martin’s brother Tom lost his life during the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center) to raise money for a scholarship fund.
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