But as fires increased by more than half, the number of firefighters decreased by a third. With the city spiraling toward a fiscal crisis, the firefighting budget was, in increments, cut by $100 million. More than 50 firefighting companies were eliminated.
Throughout these years, Michael J. Maye, who died Feb. 15, had the thankless job of heading the firefighters' union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Making his position more difficult, state law prohibited him from calling job actions, like slowdowns or strikes. Making the position almost impossible, his own membership had passed a bylaw requiring an immediate job action when a labor contract expired and no new one had been signed.
As a result, much of his membership would call in sick at the same time for several days, or would stop doing every task except responding to alarms.
Even so, Mr. Maye, a former professional heavyweight boxer, did not shrink from threatening to use the ultimate weapon, a strike, legal or not.
"God knows the city is sure as hell asking for it," he said.
Mr. Maye died of a heart attack in Delray Beach, Fla., his daughter, Susannah Maguire, said. He was 82 and lived in Boca Raton.
Mr. Maye's combativeness drew death threats from people who resented firefighters' use of ordinary labor tactics when lives could be at stake. But it also helped win the firefighters wage increases that kept pace with raises for the police and sanitation workers.
Nonetheless, he could irritate opposing negotiators with his habit of lighting matches, one after the other, during meetings. And the deals he struck with the city often seemed to satisfy no one. Mayor John V. Lindsay called a 1972 settlement ruinous; Mr. Maye's membership called it paltry.
Mr. Maye said he had picked up his hard-nosed ways from his father, a construction worker and labor leader also named Michael, who claimed to prefer fighting to eating.
The younger Michael Maye seemed to adopt the same attitude in 1972 when, at a dinner at the New York Hilton attended by city officials and reporters, he attacked a gay protester, Morty Manford, beating him and kicking him in the groin. Mr. Manford and other members of the Gay Activists Alliance had interrupted the affair to protest the news media's coverage of issues important to gay men and lesbians.
A criminal court cleared Mr. Maye, citing conflicting testimony. But the incident inspired Mr. Manford's mother, Jeanne, who died in January, to help found a national advocacy organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (or Pflag).
Mr. Maye insisted that he was not prejudiced against gay people, citing his experience as an employee at a gay club. But he continued to oppose the hiring of gay men or lesbians as teachers and firefighters. The Advocate, a gay newspaper, included him last year on its list of "biggest homophobes."
Michael Joseph Maye was born on June 25, 1930, on East 138th Street in the South Bronx, where he grew up. He was dismissed from several grammar schools for unruly behavior. His father counseled him and his three brothers on union tactics. Michael graduated from Samuel Gompers High School, named for the labor leader, and became a "sandhog," digging water and subway tunnels.
Encouraged to take up boxing, he won several Golden Gloves titles before turning professional and winning his first nine fights. During the Korean War he was in the Army, serving on a reconnaissance team.
After the war, he returned to construction and became active in union affairs. He also went back to prizefighting, compiling a record of 19 wins and no losses, but he broke his hands so often that he was forced to retire. During a construction lull, he took tests for the Police and Fire Departments and passed both. He chose Fire on the advice of two of his brothers, both police officers.
Mr. Maye became active in the Uniformed Firefighters and was elected its president in 1968. He remained in the post until he was defeated by Richard J. Vizzini in 1973. Two years later Mr. Maye defeated Mr. Vizzini, to reclaim the presidency. He retired from the union in 1978, then worked as an official of the Teamsters union until the late 1980s.
Mr. Maye's wife, the former Catherine Craig, died last year. In addition to his daughter Susannah, he is survived by two other daughters, Cathleen Maye and Maryalice Kindred; two sons, Michael and Daniel; and 10 grandchildren.