Conflict with Mayor Over Penalty Imposed on Reputed Grafter Results in Retirement of Commissioner and Deputy

BECAUSE Deputy Commissioner George L. McKenna of the New York Fire Department did not feel that evidence presented was sufficient to convict one of the Fire Department’s inspectors of petty graft, and thereupon found him guilty only of conduct unbecoming a member of the Fire Department, Commissioner McKenna was asked to resign his post by Mayor LaGuardia. Commissioner John J. McElligott upheld his deputy, and after a brief conference with the Mayor, the Commissioner tendered his resignation. Both retirements took effect on May 8.

Seven inspectors of combustibles, composing the entire force of oil-burner inspectors in the Fire Department, were ordered suspended last Feb. 11 after William B. Herlands, Commissioner of Investigation, had accused them of accepting gratuities of $3 to $10.

The case referred to above was the first to be tried, and the departmental findings were submitted to the Mayor. The defendant was acquitted of the charge of accepting gratuities, but was found guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the Fire Department, a relatively minor offense. Thereupon the Mayor took the matter into his own hands.

Both Men to Receive Pensions

Both Commissioner McElligott and Deputy McKenna will receive pensions.

Mr. McElligott joined the Fire Department as a private November 5, 1905, and earned his way to the top through the various ranks. He was made Chief of the Fire Department March 1, 1932. When Mayor LaGuardia took office Jan. 1, 1934, he asked and obtained legislative consent to combine the offices of Fire Commissioner and Chief of the Department. He named Mr. McElligott to this post.

Mr. McKenna was appointed to the Fire Department on April 17, 1905. He went up through the ranks to become a Deputy Chief on January 26, 1925. He was made Assistant Chief of the Department Dec. 6, 1933, and was appointed First Deputy Commissioner last June 16.

Acting Chief Patrick Walsh was named by the Mayor as Commissioner to succeed McElligott.

The appointment of Chief Walsh as Fire Commissioner climaxes a career in the department which began when he entered the service as a private on Dec. 10, 1901. Working through successive grades he was appointed Deputy Chief on May 16, 1925.

Since Feb. 23, 1940, Chief Walsh had been Acting Chief. His appointment to that post came on the day that Commissioner McElligott originally tendered his resignation as Commissioner, which resignation was not accepted by the Mayor.

Seven other Fire Department officials, including Chief McKenna, were retired by Mr. McElligott on the day he sent in his resignation. The McElligott action brought instant response from Mayor LaGuardia, at whose direction the retirements were cancelled on Feb. 26 by the then Acting Commissioner, the late Elmer Mustard. This cancellation later was upheld in Supreme Court.

John J. McElligott

When Chief McElligott reassumed his commissionership, Chief Walsh remained as Acting Chief, although a legal point involved never was settled. It was contended that Chief McElligott never had resigned as Chief, else the Department would have been required to hold an examination among eligible candidates. However the civil list had Chief Walsh named as Acting Chief, with mention of Chief McElligott only as Commissioner.

Commissioner McElligott had a very full career in the fire service. As an engineer of steamer, his pumper was the first to arrive at the historic Equitable Building Fire in New York City in 1912. When a Captain, he conceived and organized the first Rescue Company in the New York Fire Department in 1915. In 1926, as Division Chief, he was placed in charge of the fire boat fleet, which command he held until promoted to Assistant Chief in 1931. He became Chief in 1932 and Commissioner in 1934.

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