GLORY DAYS

mack

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Aug 8, 2009
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7,394
Dan - excellent story, as usual. Seems like you were a "person of interest" in every caper and tale.
 

JohnnyGage

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LADDER 5, P 9
MANHATTAN JOBS

Working in the Village had some interesting unique perks, for one thing watching the Annual Halloween Parade that passed by in front of the firehouse. The parade, an elaborate spectacle of “anything goes” pageantry, is the world's largest night time parade with marching bands and over fifty thousand participants in outrageous flamboyant costumes that are gaudy, showy and flashy all in one. The firehouse is filled with members and guests on this night and the location of our firehouse provides the best parade view, especially from the top of the roof overlooking the parade which lasts about three hours.

Ebert.jpg
[For about ten minutes, this pesty man came over to me at the Halloween Parade in front of L 5 quarters and peppered me with asinine questions, I had no idea it was my buddy 2nd BC Chief Joe Ebert! He had me completely fooled]


Other special community events are the Feast of St. Anthony, an eight night festival and fair that has been celebrated for over thirty years on Sullivan Street a block away from the firehouse. And of course the “Pride Parade” that takes on a festive character similar to mardi-gras with large floats and drag queens.

While the ‘Village’ is noted for the Bohemian lifestyle and rejection of social conformity it attracted writers, poets, actors, actresses and musicians among the many students of NYU. Actor Woody Harrelson, many times after a night of carousing about the town would stumble into the firehouse housewatch to say hello and feel like chatting until he was shooed off, around the corner Sara Jessica Parker and husband Mathew Broderick resided, they walked past the firehouse regularly as did musician Joe Jackson the English Rock Star (“Is she really going out with him?”). Comedian David Brenner lived nearby, as did former Mayor Ed Koch. If you kept your eyes open you’d notice Susan Bernhard giving us the ‘happy finger’ while walking by the front of the rig while I was stopped at a traffic light near Broadway, or Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan) strolling a few blocks away from US Senator Chuck Schumer.

Of course it was not all fun and games, I recall a night during “Gay Pride Week”, Christopher Street is teeming with ‘happy’ people celebrating along the narrow tree lined block. I was driving Lt. Mike when we received a phone alarm just before midnight reporting the address 95 Christopher Street, “someone smells smoke”. At the corner of Bleecker Street and Christopher is the sixteen story pre-war Gansevoort apartment building with two hundred apartments.

Christopher Street is one way heading west towards the river, and all the responding companies are responding from the same direction, behind me. We pull up with nothing showing, nor do we receive any additional information from the Manhattan CO. Mike and the inside team head for the elevators for the reported odor of smoke on the tenth floor. I took a quick walk westward ahead of where I parked the rig and took a peek at the Exposure 2 side of the building, flame was flowing out of a single tenth floor window, I immediately radioed Mike what I observed and hustled back to the rig, I grabbed the radio handset and asked the Manhattan CO if there was
any signal given on this box yet, as I have not heard anything further. The CO responded back “not at this time”. I then transmitted, calm and cool; “OK, let's go with a 10-77, fire showing from an upper floor window”. The 10-77 signal was relatively new at the time, it was used for hi-rise residential units requiring the CO to send extra companies and special units. I could tell by the CO's response when his 10-4 reply had a sense of urgency now like he just got a shot of adrenaline, I think my casual remark caught him off-guard, I guess he was probably expecting a 10-7 or 10-92 instead of now alerting the cavalry! I took off to cover my position.

Ladder 5’s response area had many old one-family walk ups, mid rise apartments, new law tenement type buildings and row houses. But outside our first due response area whether we respond north or south on a multiple alarm we’d run into the larger type commercial buildings typically found in Manhattan. I loved fire duty, but sometimes I dreaded these.

These large behemoth buildings have been renovated many times and presented a unique challenge. Many fires were electrical in nature and discovery delayed having to force door after door. Fires started in aging electrical panels from overloaded circuits or electrical components in machinery and circuit breakers that failed or malfunctioned. To search for overheated light ballasts, computers, copy machines and the like you had to be a sniffing bloodhound. And remember, some floor layouts were huge and equivalent to the size of department stores. Wires burning behind hidden shaftways from floor to floor may have been protected with asbestos that required decontamination.

Another bothersome fire if it got a head start could rapidly become a prolonged multiple alarm was a grease duct fire. Often the duct could not be thoroughly cleaned due to turns and elbows and would cause a grease build up. First due responding companies to commercial kitchen range and hood fires with extension into the duct work needed to have quick and accurate access to track down where the duct travels and terminates, and that was either someone who knew the building layout very well or blueprints, both highly unlikely resources. Some ducts led directly to the outside, others had bends that traveled vertically and horizontally through floors in void spaces discharging a few floors up, or all through the length of the building out the roof.

FireEng.jpg
[ Job I caught on 6th Ave with L 5]

Locating these voids and shafts usually resulted in increased damage and often not protected by a fire suppression system. Time and unnecessary destruction would have been drastically reduced if the thermal image camera was then available, the development of the TIC a few years later would prove their weight in gold. During my time, we did not have that convenience.

Some of these multiple alarms would go on and on for hours and became tedious, boring and labor intensive and for the most part finally resulted in a tower ladder surround and drown operation.

I was driving L 5 when we responded to a large stubborn five alarm electrical fire in a ten story ConEd generating plant, the massive generators produce steam for heating, hot water and air conditioning to local buildings. Fire companies were held back from controlling the fire because it took ConEd workers almost an hour just to shut the plant down before we could safely enter. We were assigned on the third alarm, before we were assigned I was monitoring the department radio and heard the Incident Commander requesting Hazmat and decontamination units to prepare for deconning. Ultimately we were assigned to respond, when we arrived I told all our members before we left the rig at the scene to give me everything they were carrying in their pockets, especially their wallets and any jewelry they were wearing except wedding bands. The rig has a glove compartment under the officer seat that locks securely and I stored our personal belongings there. It proved to be a heads up move, hours later after prodding and pulling with hooks we were ordered to strip and place our equipment, uniforms and personal items into bags for decontamination, all to be returned at “a later date”. We went through the decon process and handed white tyvek suits to put on. They were very hot and tight with not much give, especially when you bent over your butt blasted out, at least you then felt a cool breeze!

Coned.jpg
[Uggh, deconning, not fun]

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!! KMG-365
 

nfd2004

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Jun 22, 2007
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5,797
Dan, I mean Mr Johnny Gage, the stories you tell here are GREAT.

Your description of the characters, the types of fires, the difficulty in fighting some of these fires is not only entertaining but in many cases educational as well.
The photos are GREAT too

I sure appreciate reading these stories.

Thanks Dan
Uncle Wilfred
 

raybrag

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Apr 1, 2007
Messages
2,441
Dan, I mean Mr Johnny Gage, the stories you tell here are GREAT.

Your description of the characters, the types of fires, the difficulty in fighting some of these fires is not only entertaining but in many cases educational as well.
The photos are GREAT too

I sure appreciate reading these stories.

Thanks Dan
Uncle Wilfred
Amen, Willy. And thanks, Dan. I still say you should write a book . . . you pretty much already have, if you'd put all of your posts together.
 

JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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^^^^^^thanks Willie and Ray, you're both very kind and supportive. Who would have 'thunk' these tidbits would become a sizable collection. I have to thank again the Bendick family for allowing me to be a small part of the site, and my well wishers who continue to inspire me to write. I tell you, it's fun putting these little ditties together as I mentioned before, because I am transported right back to that day or event I'm writing about...and I'm a young man again, the Glory Days.
 

mack

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Aug 8, 2009
Messages
7,394
Chief - Great find. In addition to Dan's L 38 in Shops, there is a picture of the Command Post set up for FDNY response during a 1968 civil disturbance in Harlem. Fire Response teams consisted of 1 BC, 2 engines, 1 truck and 1 NYPD car in rear Manhattan Dispatcher would give incident to Command Post and CP would dispatch team or teams. Engine 58/L26 was an ideal Harlem Command Post location because of wide street to stage apparatus and ability to provide security. There were Command Posts selected for several areas of the city and companies were trained to operate respective Command Posts. I had an original picture but lost it. I appreciate this picture.

FCT.jpg
 

68jk09

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May 6, 2010
Messages
12,588
Did a few Command Post's in an ECP Team while in 108 which were at Watkins St 231/120/BN*44..... years later before R*2 moved from Bergen St the R*2 FH was another Command Post location (often used on Labor Day for the West Indian Day Parade)....not sure what replaced Bergen St after R*2 moved. ...the old Watkins St CP was always hopping when activated.
 

t123ken

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Sep 8, 2013
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As I recall, a Fire Control Team was formed in this order: Battalion Chief, Engine, Ladder, Engine, Police Car.
 

JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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LADDER 5; P 10
BUILDING INSPECTION

Building inspection was always interesting in our administrative area especially since there were some unique old historical buildings in our district. Besides the Westbeth Artist Community housing on Bethune Street there was a renowned hotel only a few blocks away on Jane Street that became temporary housing for the survivors of the Titanic that sank in 1912.

Originally called The “American Seamen’s Friend Society” the hotel was a small single room style hotel specifically designed for visiting sailors and as a temporary refuge for sailors in distress. The rooms were intentionally made very small to reflect the same composition of a ship that sailors were accustomed to, even rooms with bunk beds. The Hotel was constructed at the furthermost western section of Jane Street near the Hudson River with a perfect view of Ellis Island, designed by the same architects.

Jane_Hotel_American_Seamen's_Friend_Society_Sailors'_Home_and_Institute.jpg
[American Seamans Hotel, aka The Jane and "The Riverview"]

After the Titanic sank, the survivors were rescued by the Carpathia and arrived a few days later at Pier 54 greeted by thousands of onlookers who were following the tragic event. The survivors were removed to the hotel not far away from the pier.

(Historical note) Pier 54 was destroyed by fire in the early 1990’s however the remnants of a steel arch foundation are still there and if you look closely at the lettering you can make out “CUNARD WHITE STAR” the company name of the Titanic painted a century ago.

Pier-54-Structure-Abandoned-Meatpacking-District-Hudson-River-NYC.jpg
[Pier 54, still there!]

Later known as “Jane West” hotel, the hotel became a YMCA for a few years then again renamed as the ‘Riverview’. In NYC large buildings were being converted into SRO’s, single room occupancies. As a last resort, SRO’s became a cheap resource for public housing notably the downtrodden, unemployed and poor who had no other housing options, these buildings became more commonly known as flophouses. An individual could rent for a small fee a cubicle that measured four feet by six feet, it had no amenities except a bed, small locker, a light bulb and chicken wire ceiling.

I recall walking through inspecting this historic building which was now a flophouse, cramped living conditions, tight congested hallways and unimaginably filthy. As property values increased in the City, the City began to close down these occupancies because of unsafe conditions and make way for new. I made my own pre-plan for positioning the aerial ladder because the building was not readily accessible being situated at the end of a tight street with only one option for positioning the aerial for maximum effectiveness.

Today the building has been completely renovated as a Boutique Hotel complete with Ballroom and has become a NYC Building Landmark.

Another interesting hot-spot not too far away in the Meatpacking District was the famous ‘Hogs and Heifers Saloon’ . The bar became popular after a drunk guest at the joint unknowingly created a long lasting tradition when she threw her bra onto the bar, ultimately the bar amassed over eighteen thousand bras that covered the walls and ceiling of this honky-tonk.
Hogs-Heifers-Saloon_New-York_400001.jpg
[Hogs and Heifers]

The area was changing rapidly, the Meatpacking district was going through a gentrification between the old and new culture. The old bloody world gave way for luxury restaurants and high end stores.

This particular day, I parked the apparatus on West 14th Street while the troops went about their duty inspecting a few buildings nearby. I noticed one of the new stores in front of me was a Harley Davidson store, it was not hard to miss, the company had hung out a large banner over the storefront of the four story commercial building. I observed the banner, it had a simple depiction of an upright eagle, I copied the image onto a piece of scrap paper, the image became the centerpiece of our company patch, it would become our “Phoenix”.

Back in the firehouse a few days before, we were working on designing a new company patch that would incorporate the image of the “Phoenix” , a mythical bird. But, back then, we did not have the convenience of googling what a Phoenix actually looked like and the ones we did find were lame. The other L 5 guys liked the image I copied.

After a few drafts of wording, color and design the Ladder Co. 5 patch was created and later portrayed on the aerial of our new Ladder Truck we were about to receive in a few more months.
L-5-Patch.jpg
[Official Ladder 5 Patch]

Thanks for reading and allowing me to share! KMG-365
 
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JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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710
LADDER 5 P 11
FINE DINING, MOVING IN & MOVING OUT

I have been assigned to L 5 and the LCC for six years now and there have been numerous changes at L 5 with rotating personnel, in addition there is now a Chief in quarters. I got to thinking about my early days when I first arrived at the firehouse in Greenwich Village. One of the first guys I met to welcome me was Fr. Dan Newberry who had a few years on with L 5. Dan had a side gig as a Lawyer, he was over the top intellectually smart much like Lt. Mike and I sat and watched when they had their entertaining debates, each bombarding one another with sharp commentary and extraordinary wordsmanship. I felt like I was on the sideline watching two ‘Jeopardy’ game show winners verbally duelling it out.

Dan became my partner in crime at L 5 where we often worked together and when we did we enjoyed preparing and cooking the meal for the troops. We wanted to ‘kick it up a notch’ and do something different from other firehouses and so we started using clean white sheets for the kitchen tabletop for effect. I also came upon a Candelabra that was being sold at a street fair not far from the firehouse and put it to use. With white sheet table covering and everything now in place we’d turn down the lights in the kitchen and light up the candles kicking off a new tradition of fine table dining and some fun memorable meals. Sadly, months later Dan had an unforeseen medical issue that popped up and had to leave the company for a permanent light duty assignment. I retired the candelabra to the trash can.
5-arm-brass-candelabra-1.jpg
Other changes in the firehouse were happening too, my boss Lieutenant JJ was promoted to Captain leaving a vacancy for who knows who. I enjoyed working with JJ, he was a fun and good natured boss, I was happy for his promotion.

Another change was the First Division was returning to our quarters after their departure a few years ago. This would be the first firehouse I worked in that a Chief was stationed too, there was a saying that for a Chief officer to become the Chief of Department the usual track was through the First Division. I had a good time meeting the new Chiefs as they spent a few minutes in the kitchen taking a break from the upstairs office monotony. The Division also brought along new company officers that were assigned light duty status and so plenty of new faces passed through. I got to meet many fine officers who were temporarily laid up. Many of these officers were “War Year” Legends and had interesting tales and I was “all ears” ready to hear them.

On occasion I was detailed to drive a Chief for the day tour and was able to spend exclusive time chatting in the car exchanging anecdotes. One in particular was Chief Sal Cassano who enjoyed talking about the New York Mets and catcher Mike Piazza. The other was Chief Pete Hayden. Chief Pete had a legendary background including the top position of the Department Chief of Safety, he had some funny and enlightening remembrances from back then he shared with me.

The other was the Division Commander, the one and only curmudgeon Chief Dave Corcoran. He could be grumpy and he could also be very pleasant when he wanted to be, still I liked and respected him. He was a bit of an enigma, I would have liked to have learned more about him, the grumpy ol’ coot. One afternoon after lunch he approached me and asked if I would write the First Division “All Hands” Column for WNYF, I was honored and I did so for about five years.

After a couple of years at L 5 the Division relocated to the larger office space above L 20’s quarters utilizing the now available and spacious accommodations that The Medical Division occupied. The Medical Division moved to their present location at Metro Tech in Brooklyn. However the vacant space left behind at L 5 was not empty for long. As soon as the Division moved out, Battalion 2 moved in taking over the previous offices of the Division now with their cast of characters.

Notably, the first had to be the senior Aide, Faust. Faustino Apostol, but everyone knew him as Faust. Faust was the senior Battalion 2 aide, it was hard to understand Faust because he spoke as fast as a speeding bullet with a hint of spanish dialect. And we’d have to tell him to slow down and repeat himself. Faust was always jubilant and in a fantastic upbeat mood every time I saw him, his smile was endearing. The few times I covered in the Battalion Faust was extremely helpful with the paperwork, and offered to complete the fire reports and any manpower issue.
Faust.jpeg
[Rapid fire speaking Faust]
FDNYbatt_02.jpg
[Batt 2 rig in Quarters]

The other notable addition was Chief Joe Ebert, he reminded me much of my old E 88 Captain “Tough Timmy” but he was also a unique character in his own way. Chief Joe was a legendary “War Years” veteran that started his career in the busy L 103 firehouse in East New York. He wore starched white shirts and I don’t recall him getting excited over any situation, he was always calm, cool and collected. But don’t dare challenge him, he was the Chief and very well respected. Once we discovered each other as Brooklyn has-beens we immediately connected and had wonderful late-night conversations and chats, probably some of my single best memories of late night storytelling. Even today, we stay in touch and still have phone conversations.
Ebert.jpg
[Have to post this photo again, Legend Chief Joe Ebert in Wizard costume for Halloween parade]

There were other changes in the system as well, the department created a “rotation” plan where every year we would get a few new probies that would pass through for the year and then move on to another company. I liked when we received the new guy's, they always displayed passion and enthusiasm plus a willingness to explore and learn.

I was feeling a change too, even though I was very comfortable in my position as an LCC I was beginning to feel a little antsy. Now that I moved to Battery Park City, near the World Trade Center with my new wife, I went from having the longest commute to walking distance of the firehouse. I thought that this would be a good time to start studying for the next lieutenants promotional exam that was a little over two years away, but little did I know it would be an engrossing lifestyle. More on that next, same bat time, same bat channel....

Thanks for reading! KMG-365
 
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JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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710
LADDER 5 P 12
STUDYING

I’ve had some wonderful meals in the firehouse, and I know that every joint had a couple of stand out chefs that could put a real nice meal on the table, better than you can find at any restaurant, but I enjoyed E 24’s ECC Bobby Beddia’s style of cooking. Bobby was a good looking rugged type of guy, a real lady charmer. In fact he was hired as a model for an outdoors magazine ad and flown to Maine, he was photographed wearing an outdoorsy watch and his beautiful smile. He had a unique style of cooking, his tasty and hearty dishes were something between a stew and a soup. Bobby had the knack of compiling different foods like sausage, pasta, zucchini, tomatoes, beans and onions chopped up and incorporating them together, placed in a bowl and lightly covered with a chicken or vegetable stock, not enough stock to make it a soup. With fresh bread from the local bakery his meals were ‘stick to the ribs’ outstanding especially during the cooler weather. Even today if I stumble upon a lunch at a restaurant and serve a similar type meal, it brings back warm memories of Bobby’s dishes.

I think the Ladder Company Chauffeur position is by far the best, I could have done twenty years standing on my head. With the exception of a job, the many elevator, nuisance calls and water leak calls I could just stand fast on the rig which was especially nice on freezing night tours, “Don’t worry Lou, when you get back I’ll have the cab nice and warm for you”. I was very comfortable in my position but I was beginning to feel a little antsy.

Now that I moved to Battery Park City, two blocks from the World Trade Center with my new wife, I went from having the longest commute to walking distance of the firehouse. I also packed it in with my side work gig shuttling an oil truck. Now, enjoying the extra free time and with seventeen years on I thought that this would be a good time to start studying for the next lieutenants promotional exam that was a little over two years away. Little did I know it would become an engrossing lifestyle.

Studying I found out is a lifestyle. During my time on the job, I remember other firefighters that were committed to studying, and like golf, that was all they talked about. Most were in “study-groups” where these guys would meet regularly at somebody's home throwing questions at each other and discussing the study material. They would talk about the upcoming week ‘study group’ gathering as if it was a tailgate party. I thought it was about time I became one of those guys.

To start with, I bought all the “books” I needed from a guy on Staten Island that had a printing business and sold firefighters the complete set of official manuals. It cost a couple of hundred dollars to get going, the manuals came in a large tied bundle with no binders, the bundle was at least about a foot high, maybe a little more of just stacked paper. If you wanted “three ring holes” punched in, that was an additional cost but that would help to sort and organize all the different manuals and so I invested in six three inch loose leaf binders.


fd book.jpg

I could go on and list the subjects and topics, the various manuals of regulations, communications, evolutions, training bulletins and tools, All Unit Circulars, Tactics and Procedures for every conceivable type structure found in NYC, Engine operations, Ladder operations, fires in Private Dwellings and taxpayers to Hi-rise, subways, Elevator and every other emergency you can imagine, Con-Ed, personnel management, EMS, Guide to Company Journals and on and on.

At first hand the subject matter appeared overwhelming, this was like trying to comprehend an encyclopedia collection. In addition every quarter was more info on “changes” and “updates” that needed to be added to the books and the old stuff extracted. I’m told, that was very important since the people who create the exam are usually looking for ‘new’ information, especially if the information was updated they could use the newer material as a question.

And so I committed to studying everyday for at least an hour. Many of the lieutenants and students I met told me that all of a sudden there is a transformation where you start becoming consumed learning and yearning for more and that is true. I couldn’t wait to sit down and crack open a book and I studied more than an hour easily. I became obsessive. The Lieutenants test comes around usually every two years and I did not study for the previous exam. But like a new hobby I found myself reading and studying almost every chance I could whether at home, in the firehouse or while out on the rig while the troops were inspecting buildings.

When I was off, I attended two separate courses that prepared you for the Lieutenants and Captains exam, they cost a few bucks to get into, but well worth the investment. Rented large halls with round tables that seated four were occupied by about forty students either studying for the Lieutenants or Captain Exam. The first course was “Fire Tech” and the second “Fire Command” these courses were held by an FDNY Officer who was highly successful in passing promotional exams sharing his test taking strategies and approach.

The structured preparatory classes were conveniently given at various locations and times every week to accommodate the varying firefighter schedules. Both courses provided you with study guides and lists, test taking strategies, and a weekly structured study schedule that was reviewed at the next class. I looked forward to attending these classes, in fact I even started to “record” the lecture on a small cassette recorder for enhancement, it was a common practice among the students. And from the class I was able to hook up with fellow students and formed a couple of study groups.

One of the best suggestions I received was from a very sharp lieutenant in E 24, and it is still useful today, Lt. Rosie told me to jot down the date in the upper right hand corner of whatever subject material you were reading when you completed it. It was a quick reference of the last time you read that subject and a timeline when you needed to refresh. There were subjects that I entered at least eight different dates, and that was what it took. The other smartest tip I recall was not to “highlight” anything until after you have read the subject three times. And that was true, it was hard to hold back on the highlighter, but after about the third time reading the material, your memory recalled the next information you were about to read, almost like watching a movie three times, you know what the next lines will be.

Another great technique tip I learned from my L 38 buddy who was now the Captain of R 4 Brian Hickey was to create a notebook with dedicated pages to jot down any reference to colors mentioned in any of the numerous manuals, same with any reference to numbers, any time you read “never” or “always”. He also broke down references to hours, days, dates, quarterly, semi annual, annual references. Brian's methodology was very thorough, he was a great inspiration.

I really enjoyed studying, it became my lifestyle, and I recall reading material that I knew like the back of my hand and looking for any nuance that I may have overlooked or not remember. I had the subject matter down ice cream cold.

In August of 2001 “Fire Tech” had a one hundred question “practice exam”, like the NYC exam you were assigned a number on the exam, no name. The test was deliberately made difficult with trickery wording and questioning. Later, the following week after the exam a list of four hundred or so test takers was distributed with their score. I did very well, and was number five on the list. Now, of course, it was no guarantee that I would have had a successful Saturday taking the exam, I could have had a complete fall out, but I was confident and psyched to tackle the upcoming lieutenants test that was scheduled two months away, bring it on, baby. Except nobody knew of the impending attack of September 11th.

EPILOGUE: Subsequently the October exam was canceled, and many months after the 9/11 attack the Lieutenants exam was re-scheduled, every member of my study groups went on to become fine lieutenants and Captains. The young probie I “tutored” who had ‘cop’ time, believe it or not he would be eligible to take the exam, today he is a Captain.

I did not have the chance to take the promotion exam because I had to retire. However, after retirement I did take the New York State Fire Instructor Course, did very well and became a National Certified Fire INstructor that opened many doors for me eventually.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed this ditty...KMG-365.
 
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