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Blakeview: William J. McCrossen

New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent from 1973-1993



This week, as we celebrate all things Irish on St. Patrick's Day, we remember an Irish Channel native who carried with him a deep love for his city — and his Irish heritage. William J. McCrossen was superintendent of the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) for nearly 20 years, from 1973 until 1993. McCrossen's father also was a firefighter; he died when his son was just 3 years old. Young William dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help his mother support the family. He tried several times to get a job as a firefighter (his lifelong dream) and finally succeeded in 1942, when he was 28. His 51 years of service to the department were interrupted by two years as a Navy Seabee during World War II. Modernizing the NOFD was one of his many accomplishments as chief. He also championed a 1975 state law requiring sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings. He pushed for the change after the 1972 Rault Center fire, which saw several people leap to their deaths from the downtown building's 15th floor. McCrossen was also present in 1973 when sniper Mark Essex shot at firefighters, police officers and civilians from the downtown Howard Johnson's Hotel. A plain-talking, larger-than-life yet down-to-earth man, McCrossen was said to have been the oldest fire chief in America when he retired in 1993 at age 79. Even after that, the Superintendent Emeritus went to work every day as historian at the NOFD Museum on Washington Avenue. He died in 2004 at age 90.

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