Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Dr. Harry Archer was born to a prominent New York family. He attended Columbia University and received an M.D. degree from Bellevue Medical College in 1894. Since his childhood he loved the FDNY, not unlike many youngsters in the City. But after becoming a physician, Dr. Archer dedicated himself to New York's Bravest.
Perhaps to the disappointment of his family, rather than becoming a private physician to New York's high society, he accepted a salaried position with Aetna Life Affiliated Companies with the proviso that he could, and would, leave his office to attend greater alarm fires.
On March 7, 1907, Dr. Archer was appointed to the Department with the rank of honorary Battalion Chief and was designated a Medical Officer. Though never receiving compensation for his medical services to the FDNY, there is no doubt that this was his full-time job.
Whether by horse, bicycle, his Locomobile outfitted with bell and Maltese cross, or by "bus" - the 1914 FDNY Ambulance he designed - Dr. Archer's appearance at second and greater alarms was a matter of routine. But once at the scene, he was not satisfied with merely tending to the wounds, major or minor, of the firefighters.
On multiple occasions, Dr. Archer entered burning or collapsed buildings to treat firefighters and civilians alike. At the Equitable Building fire in 1912, he made his way into the basement vaults of the building to administer aid to trapped firemen. For this action, he received his first medal of valor.
He was cited a total of four times during his career including the Department's highest award, the James Gordon Bennett Medal, for his participation in the rescue of two workmen trapped in a building collapse at 39 to 41 Eldridge Street in Manhattan. Dr. Archer himself became trapped briefly when a second collapse shook the building as he was making his exit.
Twenty-four years later, at the age of 78, Dr. Archer was still at it, this time crawling through the rubble and debris to spend over ten hours on a freezing New Year's Eve to try to keep two firefighters, Battalion Chief William Hogan and Fireman Winfield Walsh, alive. They were trapped in the collapse of a loft building at 749 Broadway. Dr. Archer administered plasma to them, perhaps the first time this was done outside of a hospital in other than a combat setting, as well as broth through feeding tubes. Unfortunately, both men succumbed to their injuries but not until several days after their ordeal.
In 1939, Mayor LaGuardia asked him to serve as Second Deputy Commissioner which he did until 1940. To do so, he had to resign his honorary position and rank.
Dr. Archer's activities earned him the respect of his professional colleagues as well as the firefighters he treated. Perhaps the first Fire Surgeon to truly embody that title, he became nationally known for his expertise in treating toxic gas poisoning, having developed ground-breaking treatment modalities. Some times his methods were "low-tech." He was known to stock woolen Navy watch caps in his ambulance that he would make injured men wear on cold, wet nights.
Though the firefighters who benefited from Dr. Archer's intense concern and caring are of a generation long since passed, his memory lives on. In 1947, a medal was endowed in his name. It is awarded every third year to one of the three previous Bennett Medal recipients. In 1956, Commissioner Cavanaugh unveiled a plaque in Headquarters honoring Dr. Archer's sixty years of devotion and service to the members of the Department. In 1958, a fireboat was commissioned in his name.
From from findagrave.com