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Honorary Deputy Chief
Ernest G. Stillman, M.D.
1884 - 1949
Ernest Goodrich Stillman was born into wealth. He was the son of James Jewett Stillman who built railroad and banking empires (e.g., First National City Bank of New York, later "Citibank") and was one of the richest men in the United States. The younger Stillman attended Harvard as an undergraduate (Class of 1908) and received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University (Class of 1913). He was a respected researcher in the field of pulmonology at the Rockefeller Institute. (His sisters Sarah and Isabel both married Rockefellers.) During World War I, he served in the Army Medical Corps.
Dr. Stillman was a contemporary and friend of many of the prominent buffs of the FDNY. He was appointed an honorary Battalion Chief in 1925 to work as a Medical Officer with Dr. Archer. He was promoted to Deputy Chief in 1938. Dr. Stillman chose to share his fortune generously for the benefit of the FDNY and its members. In 1937 he anonymously donated the Memorial Wall in Headquarters, which still stands today after several expansions. He endowed two medals of valor. He also served as Chief of the volunteer fire department at his summer residence in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, where he founded Cornwall Hospital in 1923.
His involvement with the Department was not limited to monetary contributions. A brilliant man, he invented a flashlight specifically designed for firefighters that was utilized by the FDNY. Given his research in pulmonology, it is not surprising that he had an interest in the impact of smoke on firefighting so, in addition to development of his own smoke ejection device that he donated to the Department, in 1937 he underwrote the construction of a new smoke ejector apparatus for the FDNY. But perhaps his most enduring contribution was the result of another one of his passions…photography. It is said that Dr. Stillman showed up at many fires with his medical bag in one hand and a motion picture camera in the other. The images he captured record many of the most historic personalities, equipment and fires in New York City during the 1920's and 1930's. They are considered to be the largest collection of fire-related films in the world. His son John originally donated the films to the Prelinger Archives which has since been transferred to the Library of Congress. Copies of the films are now widely accessible. Dr. Stillman donated some of his fire memorabilia to the Storm King Fire Engine Company in Cornwall where it is on display in their headquarters. The bulk of his collection was handed down to his son Timothy who, like his father, was an avid fire buff. Timothy, a member of the Fire Bell Club of New York, displayed these items along with his own additions at his "Cannon Square Fire Museum" in Stonington, Connecticut, eventually bequeathing it all to the Connecticut Firemen's Historical Society.
After Dr. Stillman passed away at his home in Manhattan on December 16, 1949, his ashes where scattered at Black Rock Forest, a 3,800-acre tract of land in Cornwall, New York, (one of many owned by his family,) that he donated to his alma mater, Harvard University. In 1992 a plaque to his memory was unveiled at the Forest. His impact on the FDNY will forever endure.