Maybe it is a case of “boys and their toys,” or some kind of wish fulfillment, but I have been a fire buff every since I was a kid.
(To clarify: Being a fire buff does not mean being a pyromaniac or arsonist. It generally describes people who support or admire firefighters and firefighting.)
I recall from a very young age seeing two “working fires” in my neighborhood in which firefighters attacked blazes in the upper stories of apartment buildings.
The bravery and precision in which they sized up the situation and ran toward a scene that others were fleeing left a lasting impression on me.
As a kid, I would race down the stairs from our third-floor apartment at the sound of approaching fire trucks. (I learned to discern the difference between fire, ambulance and police sirens.)
I would insist that my dad take me to the New York City Fire Museum, which was in a former firehouse and filled with exhibits, paintings, equipment, apparatus and photos.
It was there that I learned this apocryphal story: Before they were made of brass, poles in firehouses were supposedly made of wood, which led to this saying: “As you slide the down the pole of life, may all the splinters be facing in the right direction.”
In my first full-time job as a reporter in Saranac Lake, N.Y., I learned to interpret the fire sirens. Morse Code-like, the series of blasts alerted volunteers to the location of the fire, including the street and house number.
As a father, I shared my admiration for firefighting, taking my sons to fire museums and the Homepage in Midtown Manhattan, which has a state-of-the-art simulator to learn about fire safety.
You can also climb into cab of a fire truck and listen to an FDNY radio. The Fire Zone is designed with kids in mind, but somewhere there is a photo of me sitting behind the wheel in that truck!
I am nowhere near as hardcore a buff as others. Though I do belong to several Facebook pages dedicated to fire apparatus, I cannot recite the specifications and capacities the way some can.
I have two FDNY sweatshirts – one is dark blue with an official FDNY patch and the other is red, with FDNY on the front and “Keep Back 200 Ft.” on the back.
When I wear them, I am often asked if I am a firefighter. I make it clear I am not — I am merely a buff.
Does that make me a wannabe? I don’t know, though at some point I’d like to volunteer in whatever way I can.
With 9/11 coming up, I cannot help but think about the incredible bravery and selflessness those firefighters displayed in trying to rescue others. Some of my former high school classmates in the Bronx were among those FDNY firefighters (and police officers) who gave their lives that day.
Beyond the flashing lights and bright red trucks, I am drawn to the esprit de corps, discipline and sense of duty and community that the firefighting services embody.