Tag Archives: FDNY

Being a Fire Buff Goes Beyond Trucks and Sirens

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 FDNY Fire Zone 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.

Where’s the Kaboom?

In an earlier blog post I referenced an incident of some hilarity that took place when my buddy Pedro and I were emptying my then-girlfriend’s apartment on Staten Island about 30 years ago.

We were working long into the night/early into the morning to get the task done so by the next day, I think it’s safe to say were both a little punchy and perhaps not each thinking very clearly.

I was busy sorting through books and other possessions, when Pedro came into the living room with an armload of spray and aerosol cans.

Him: “What should I do with these?”

Me: (Distracted and not paying enough attention, with a dismissive wave of my hand): “Oh, just throw them away.”

So he did.

I should pause to mention here that this was 30 years ago and that the apartment building at the time still burned its trash using an incinerator. Burning garbage was a common practice back in the day before concerns about the ash and pollution caused buildings to convert to trash compactors.

Within a few minutes, Pedro returned, as a white as the Easter Bunny.

“Dude!” (I’m not sure if we called each other “dude” back then but literary license allows me here…) “I threw that shit down the shaft and there was like this fireball! The force of the fire caused the garbage door to blow back open!”

This was really a rather remarkable feat considering that the blowback rose all the way up to the SIXTH FREAKIN’ FLOOR where we were.

Ever seen the “Wheep Wow” baking scene from the “Little Rascals”? Yeah it was a bit like that.

I went out to the hallway, and sure enough, there was soot all around the incinerator door. I assured him that yes, holy Christ!, there did appear to be an explosion of some kind, but that the worst was behind us and not to worry.

And then we heard the sirens. The unmistakable sound of FDNY fire truck sirens. Getting very, very close.

Since we were up on the top floor of the building, immediately over our heads was the roof. In short order, we could hear the crunching of footsteps on the roof’s gravel and the crackle of the firefighters’ two-way radios.

You know how when you are drunk, you react in ways that make no sense? Well, in our state of panic and punchiness, we decided we needed to be very quiet and not call attention to our presence in the apartment, lest we get in trouble. Not that that made any sense since it’s unlikely they would have heard us but that was our remedy at the moment.

The firefighters eventually left and we returned to our work.

As for the remaining cleansers and aerosol cans, I cannot say for certain what we did with them, but after nearly getting his eyebrows singed, I’m pretty sure Pedro didn’t chuck anymore down the incinerator.