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Captain John Russo speaks about Captain Lester A. Roberts


Captain Russo speaks about Cpt Lester


Captain Joseph Russo, commanding officer of Engine Company 254 (Watchdawgs) spoke eloquently about Captain Lester A. Roberts, Here is his speech and other information provided by Captain Russo.


Greetings, and welcome to the quarters of Engine 254 and Ladder 153 of the Brooklyn formerly known as Gravesend.

We gather here this morning to celebrate a mass for all the deceased members of Ladder 153 and Engine Company 254 and especially to honor the memory of a fallen hero. Captain Lester Augustus Roberts, a forty-year veteran of the FDNY, served as the Company Commander of Engine 254 from Jan. 1, 1913, until his death on January 9, 1924.

His granddaughter, Marie Roberts, brought this fact to our attention one afternoon several months ago. Since our records in quarters do not go back that far, FF Jim Del Bionic made a call to the department, and remarkably, a personnel record was still on file. A reading of that file would tell you that he was appointed to the FDNY on April 1, 1885, at age 23. His former occupation list sailor. During his four decades with the Fire Department * was promoted three times; to Lieutenant Dec. 9 1895 to Captain on December 10, 1896, and on April 13, 1898 he was promoted to Acting Battalion Chief. .....Under the heading "Roll of merit", there are three dates;

June 22, 1885, Feb. 22 1992 and May 14,1894.

Under the remarks column is a recording of the announcement of his death that was printed on Department Order #6 of 1924.

If that was all we had to go on, we could conclude that he had a very full and active career. Fortunately for us, Captain Robert's biography was included in a historical book written about the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. To quote from page 247 of that colorful text,

"As a firefighter he was second to none in efficiency. As a Commanding Officer he was excelled by none in the capacity for handling men for the intrepid dash and daring of the most brilliant type. Even in the face of seemingly sure death when emergency and catastrophe called for courage of the highest quality"

I thank you all for joining us to remember our fallen brothers and the dedication of this plaque in honor of Captain Father John, for his blessings, Julius Pontercorvo, the Pipers. To all our invited guest and members of the dais for taking the time to be with us on this special day.

A special thank you to the members of " Ave. U" for their work to make this day a success, and to Lenni Kohler and her staff in solving all the logistical problems.

To Commissioner Von Essen for supporting our efforts to give proper recognition to a fallen hero.

In closing I would like to thank Marie Roberts for re connecting us with an important part of our past. Generations of firefighters will learn the meaning of dedication to duty from the presents of these memorial plaques


Educated at St. Francis College he joined the US Navy at age 16. He apprenticed on the ship "Alliance" on its famous voyage intothe Arctic regions in search of the lost expedition ship "Jeanette". After five years of Navel service, on April 1,1 885,he joined the FDNY. That same year as a member of Truck Company 1, he saved the lives of John and Ellen McGrath of Hicks Street. In 1890 he again played the hero and rescued several persons at a fire at 452 Atlantic Ave. Transferred to Truck 10, he rescued James Michelson and Mrs. Goodman at a fire at 395 Fulton Street. He also caught and saved the baby of Mrs. Goodman when she threw the child from a fourth story window. (I think he was mvp that year) In 1896 he was appointed captain of Engine 254. He was an active member of many department organizations. He was the organizer and founder of the Captains Benevolent Association and served as president for three years. Quoting once again;

"In the harness and at the post of duty, Acting Battalion Chief Lester Augustus Roberts, of the Coney Island Fire District of the City of New York Fire Department, answered his last official call on the night of January 9, 1924, when he fell dead while making an inspection of the Miriam Theatre Building at Ave. 0 and Coney Island Ave. The courageous heart of many a conflict with death, flame and smoke failed suddenly at the last as it had urged him on in former days to numerous heroic rescues of victims from the element of combat to which he had given virtually all his life. "


The history of this Engine Company predates the formation of the unified City of New York and, and along with Ladder Company 153, that history is full with accounts of sacrifice and service to the citizens of this community. In 1960 FF William V. Russo of E254, no relation, was awarded the James Gordon Bennett medal, the oldest most prestigious medal of valor given by the FDNY. On August 2, 1978 two members of L 15 3 were among the six who perished in the collapse of the Waldbaums Supermarket. More recently, in 1 998, Engine Company 254 was awarded a unit citation for effecting the rescue of overcome firefighter at a second alarm fire in Coney Island, and on this past June 7, FF William Stores of LI 5 3 was awarded the Bella Steifel medal for the rescue of two people at a house fire on El 2 Street.

Captain Roberts was a man of uncommon bravery, ability and dedication. He is a real and tangible connection to our past. It is important that we keep his memory alive so that that we can carry on that same spirit of service.

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