The Firemen’s Garden on East Eighth Street between Avenues C and D honors the memory of all New York City firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. The site pays homage in particular 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.
Marty Celic was born April 10, 1952, on Staten Island, the son of Inez and Mathias Celic. He attended Monsignor Farrell High School, where he ran track and broke the school record in the intermediate hurdles. In and out of school, he was known for his exuberance and drive, his love of practical jokes, his joyous irreverence, and his friendliness. He attended John Jay College, and joined the Fire Department a few years later.
In mid-1975, New York City faced a budget crisis, and many recent hires, including Celic, were laid off. Over the next year, Celic worked at a variety of jobs and returned to his alma mater as an assistant track coach. He loved fighting fires, however, and was happy when he was rehired on Christmas Day, 1976.
On July 2, 1977, at 3:10 P.M., a fire broke out on the fifth floor of an abandoned building on this site. Ladder Company 15, including Celic, who was working overtime, spotted the smoke on the way back to the station after a false alarm. When the firefighters arrived, the blaze was spreading up the building. After the men entered the building, the teenager who had started the fire went back in and set another fire, on the second floor, trapping the firemen in the blazing structure.
Ladder Company 11 raised its rescue platform to the fifth-floor window, and the firemen had to crawl onto the fire escape and jump to the “cherry picker.” Struggling through smoke and with heavy equipment on his back, Marty Celic missed the cherry picker and fell 70 feet to the ground. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he died eight days later, on July 10, 1977. He was twenty-five years old and had been planning to be married that October.
Marty Celic received the Fire Department Medal of Valor posthumously, as well as the Medal of Supreme Sacrifice from the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the United Firefighters Officers Association. He was honored as Fireman of the Year by the Crime Victims’ Rights Organization. His former company, Ladder 18, established the Martin Celic Scholarship Fund, which awards a yearly scholarship to a junior at Monsignor Farrell High School who combines academic achievement with excellence in track. The Marty Celic Four-Mile Run is held annually in Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island to raise money for the fund.
Longtime neighborhood residents Ansley and Kelly Carnahan had begun gardening in the lot adjacent to the abandoned building in 1975. After the burnt-out building was condemned and torn down, the Carnahans and other local residents expanded their garden to the new lot. Beginning with planting beds across the front, the garden grew slowly to its present size, with a grassy plot in the center and woodsy pathways at the back. The gardeners received help from the Green Guerrillas, GreenThumb, and other organizations and individuals. They named the garden in honor of those who risk their lives daily in every borough and district. Marty Celic’s family donated benches made of cedar and wrought iron.
The garden was leased through GreenThumb in 1980, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1989. The Fire Department held a dedication ceremony in the garden in December of 1988, and a plaque commemorating Marty Celic was installed. The Firemen’s Garden was transferred to Parks in 1999. The transfer grants the garden the security of Parklands status while leaving the administration and maintenance to the local residents. Birthday parties are celebrated here, as well as Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. A special ceremony is held in mid-July in remembrance of the sacrifices of all New York City firemen.
Thursday, Dec 20, 2001