GLORY DAYS

JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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814
THE PILE; P 5

“You’re done, you gotta go”. I hear the voice coming from the other end of my phone, the voice is Uniformed Firefighters Association Vice President Mike Carter, he then restates distinctly, only this time his voice entering my ear sounds like someone slowing down a record on the turntable of a record player, it’s slow and remote; “Forget about going back full duty, you’re done, you gotta go”.

It’s mid gray winter, Jean and I have relocated from our Battery Park apartment with tears in our eyes, we loved living in Manhattan, and it is a little harder for her, Jean has lived at that address for nine years. We loved the area and the lifestyle, the esplanade where we watched passing barges and ferries, people commuting to and from work and restaurants of all kinds within walking distance nearby. But now the air was filled with diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, asbestos, silica, benzene and lead. The noise of heavy machinery unabated. We realized we could not stay here anymore, for our health and well being, and so on our second wedding anniversary in December two weeks before Christmas we moved from Battery Park to bucolic Bronxville into a charming pre war Georgian Brick Apartment House apartment. Across from us is a majestic historical gray block Dutch Reformed Church that rings church bells on the hour. We have gone from the reverberations of excavators to the solemn ringing of a church bell.

Bronxville is a beautiful close knit community with grandiose pre-war homes and a quaint town that invites you to walk around and indulge in any one of the many coffee shops. Since Jean has resumed working in Midtown, the nearby train station to Grand Central is a minute away, and I drive her to the station everyday.

After Jean hops on the train, my game plan is to head for either a doctor appointment or funeral. If any of those two functions are not happening I head down to the Pile. After many months of raking and probing scattered rubble for remains and dumping the matter into some one hundred thousand trucks, the pile has now become the pit. The routine is steadfast and mundane at times, the days merge into a gray blur. Since September 11, I have not recalled seeing a sunny sky.

Certain days I travel to the pit by myself, throw on my coveralls and find a spot spending the day digging. When I know the day will be dry and the temperature comfortable enough I call my old boss from E 88, Captain Tough Timmy Gallagher and another E 88 buddy Marty to pull them out of retirement and accompany me at the pit for the day digging. TT lived in Riverdale, right along the way to the site. The three of us sitting in the front seat of my GMC pick up truck for the ride downtown.

The last few times digging at the pit I was with other teams, we were able to confirm three recoverys through positive identification. The first was a firefighter from E 4, who was wearing his handi-talkie with the assigned riding position on the leather case. The second was a woman from Orange County we identified from a still intact wallet she had in her black colored slacks back pocket. The third was another firefighter from L 2 we identified by his name in his coat.

meatsite.jpg


When you discovered remains, you had to call a firefighter that had a GPS system to catalogue the location. We placed victims into red bags, all victims, whether firefighter or civilian, were placed into a stokes basket then covered by an American Flag. I remember carrying out the firefighter from E 4, I was at the head of the stokes along with E 24 firefighter and friend Bobby Beddia. A few years later, Bobby would be killed with Firefighter Joey Graffignino across the street at the Deutsche Bank seven alarm fire in 2007.

Along with Captain Tim and Marty we often dug with retired FDNY fathers whose firefighter sons were missing. I recall when we first discovered the L 2 firefighter, only the soles of his boots appeared from the mountain of debris encapsulating him. We made way as one of the dads jumped in and with dogged determination single handedly carved away debris until we were able to pull the remains free. Although not his son, the dad seemed relieved for a moment knowing that he just recovered somebody else's son.

Digging, pulling and scratching the surface while the huge excavators removed debris for us to inspect and sort through was repeated over and over. The excavators would remove huge chunks of wreckage and we’d sift carefully in search of human remains. Sometimes you could tell you were close to finding someone by the smell of decaying flesh. I recall raking and all of a sudden turning over a full intact knee joint, it just popped up out of the rubble.

In the process of scratching and digging I found numerous internal computer parts, WTC ID cards, a contorted rusted revolver, a collection of Police Patches, twisted elevator doors, a small zamboni and elevator floor signs. One of my interesting finds was a case of wooden matches from “Windows of the World” the restaurant on top of the North Tower. Everything and anything of value I discovered was turned over to the proper authorities. Finding glass was very rare, there were forty four thousand windows in the WTC, plus interior doors and windows, the glass was pulverized, finding a piece of glass was like finding a diamond.

wtc glass.png

After a day of digging, gouging and burrowing through debris, Timmy, Marty and I headed up the ramp to the huge carnival looking white tent the Red Cross erected that was fondly called “The Taj Mahal”. Before entering we had to decontaminate our muddy work boots. Upon entering you were immediately greeted by gracious Red Cross Volunteers who were happy to provide us with a hot buffet, coffee and a quiet place to sit. Notwithstanding, Tough Timmy charmed the little old ladies, and they’d supply him with a travel kit of fixings for his dinner later that night back home.

Metimmarty.jpg
(Captain Tim, me, Marty)

Back home in Bronxville, I await for Jeans train. Our ride home from the train station is only a couple of minutes. The train station is within walking distance, but I pick her up and allow her to relax for the short ride home. I tell her of my conversation with the UFA Vice President, “I have to retire, he told me I’m done and I have to go”. Mike’s blunt reveal astounded us.

Today is the last day at the pit for recovery work, the recovery work is now complete. It is actually the closing ceremony and I notice many firefighters and rescue workers wear Hawaiian Leis donated from Hawaii that are being handed out. I refuse to wear one, to me it is not a gleeful celebration and I’m annoyed to see firefighters who wear the garland.

In just eight and a half months, almost 1.2 million tons of twisted steel and pulverized concrete were painstakingly removed and a six story mountain pile became a sixteen acre pit. The large thirty-six foot, fifty-eight ton final column, a remnant of the south tower, will be removed from the site covered in a black shroud. From there the steel beam will be driven up the long ramp on a flatbed truck to street level while we salute along the roadway edge and buglers play taps. There is a flyover by NYPD helicopters. The steel is covered in markings and inscriptions listing the death toll of FDNY, NYPD and PAPD emergency workers. There are also tributes and memorial cards with photographs attached of those who died. Fewer than half of the firefighters killed were recovered.

Meandtim.jpg
(Capt. Tim and me. Shortly after, Captain Tim gave me his frontpiece to keep. I kept if for many years, then returned it to the quarters of E 88 in a shadow box, to be forever revered after the Boss died)

The September 11th attack was the deadliest terrorist attack in human history, it was also the deadliest incident for firefighters and police officers. Seeing the empty shell of the WTC was enough and gave me closure. I have seen enough as I reflect on a blessed remarkable career and journey. I realize that I will never be the person that I am at this time and place, because I will never be this way again. The following day, I submitted my retirement papers. Mike was right; it was time to go.

Thanks for reading. KMG-365
Next, the epilogue of "Glory Days"
 
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JohnnyGage

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Apr 23, 2018
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EPILOGUE; THE FAT LADY SINGS.


Hello Troops, well, all good things must come to an end as they say. I started to write my recollections for “GLORY DAYS” after reading the many inspiring stories that were shared on this unique and magnificent site. I am honored and truly enjoyed to have been able to contribute a series of short story remenances of my past history with you.

When I started to put my thoughts in order back in March 2019 I bought a small notebook and casually jotted down recollections and thoughts. Thinking of past memories became contagious, one memory led to another, and then another. In a short time I amassed many stories that I wanted to share in an orderly and entertaining fashion.

I organized a spiral notebook and across the top I listed category headings; ‘Riding with L 31’, ‘DCFD’, ‘Gory Days’, ‘Tough Timmy’, ‘ L 38, L 112, L 5, & L 31’ experiences and finally a very personal contribution; ‘September 11’. The notebook filled quickly and I was eager to put pen to paper as the stories burst into my head. I have to admit, I am amazed at the result, there are more than eighty stories, five hundred replies and over 217 thousand views. I could never imagine the end result, or reception of viewers.

I maintain there were two very significant eras in the FDNY, of course the first being the historic “War Years” a unique and unrepeatable phase of NYC fires and firefighters. Followed by an evolving generation I prefer to affectionately call the “Glory Days”, a special juncture where “War Year Legends” shared their unequivocal firefighting knowledge and experiences with a new breed of firefighters and future legends.

Furthermore, the firematics between the two periods has drastically changed an reshaped the FDNY, to wit; Street fire alarm boxes have gone silent, energy efficient windows and lightweight construction is prevalent, bunker gear, wind driven fires, thermal imaging cameras, personal alert safety systems, rabbit tools, electronic pump panels, rapid intervention teams, hoods, lifesaving rope evolutions, composite fire helmets, firefighting drones, decontamination, hazardous materials, rehab, safety officers, acts of terrorism, and on and on have contributed to an evolutionary change advancing firefighter safety. The only unaltered refinement of today's stalwart FDNY firefighters is their dedication, bravery and exceptional allegiance to tradition and aggressive firefighting tactics.

Writing these stories has been delightful and transporting in many ways I never imagined. For a few glorious moments I return to a moment in time and relive the impression second by second, fully aware of my existence in time travel, sometimes rediscovering little nuances that I never thought about but suddenly awakens and becomes very clear. I am able to rejoin with friends who have passed away, even for a brief second and remain forever young. I don’t dwell in the past, but it is a welcome fleeting repose.

I am very grateful and indebted to the originators of NYC FIRE NET; John and Tommy Bendick and Mr. Willy, the Grand Poobah for allowing me to share my contributions on this forum. Grazie!

I wish to express my gratitude from this site for introduceing me to exceptionally wonderful new friends like JK, Mack, ConEd Frank, Raybrag, Johnd, Mikeinddabronx and Elwood and reunite with old buddies MemoryMaster, Jkal and Garrett.

To my newfound pen-pals, I am grateful for your contributions sharing your remembrances that added flair and sparkle to this thread; Manhattan, EngineCap, Bxengine, Lebby, 8060Rock, Chief Manson, Turk132, JOR176, Stajo, Mac8146, Scoobyd, Signal73, doneleven, faifaxfirebuff, Res8cue99, Lucky, 1261truckie, fdnystatenisland, Grumpy grizzly, t123ken, JTSVC1, entropychaser, ladder197, fdhistorian, Ifdlt31, kdfrmqns, jmag228, GeoC, H and L 147, tem 217, Bisket 721, Columbusfire, BritishAndy, Spanner. Thank you!

I am also very thankful to those who have ‘Private Messaged’ me with their kind comments, well wishes and feedback throughout this journey.

To my friends; Your messages, thoughts, additions and remarks were very welcomed and they did indeed certainly motivate and inspire me to write more. It was truly an honor to have shared my thoughts with all of you, thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed

Signing off is hard when you grow to love what you’re leaving, I am thankful for my memories and your kindness...
Glory days, well they'll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, Glory days

Dan / JohnnyGage KMG-365
#1.jpg #2.png #3.png
 
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68jk09

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May 6, 2010
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Thank You for sharing Dan....you certainly have one of the best chronology's of a great career posted on this site.
 

jtsjc1

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Jul 29, 2019
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Thank you Dan I really appreciate you posting these stories. Well written and honest I appreciate you taking the time to type them out for us to read.
 

mack

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Dan Thank you! You shared your outstanding career with us and made us feel like we were with you. You are a gifted writer. And your life's adventures and experiences are remarkable events of courage, dedication, friendship and love. I admire you and your wife for your bravery and strength. I am honored to be considered a friend and brother. Thank you Dan.
 

nfd2004

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Jun 22, 2007
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Thank You Dan. I most certainly agree with all of the above. Your stories have been GREAT.

I too am honored to consider you a friend.
 

mac8146

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Mar 5, 2007
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Dan thanks for the memories especially the Belmont Ave stories, a truly one of a kind firehouse. Stay well and maybe get a publisher to make Glory Days a book for all to read about what the FDNY means to all of us here ??
 

raybrag

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Apr 1, 2007
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Thank you, Dan. Willy is right . . . your stories have been GREAT. It's time now to get a good editor, and assemble them into a book. If Dennis Smith could do it, SO CAN YOU!!
 

STAjo

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Dan; I Swear to God This is True - at work this evening, I had a chance to 'Drop-in' to The Site.
I had the radio on low while I read This, and 'Glory Days' by Springsteen was playing as I read your Post. ?
 

1261Truckie

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Mar 3, 2007
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Thanks, Dan, for sharing your memories with us. Your journies down memory lane have brought back many memories from my life.
 

turnout

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Mar 28, 2015
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Well done Dan, enjoyed the series! Stimulated my mind of many memories. Thanks for sharing
 

fltpara16

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Oct 26, 2007
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Dan, thank you for sharing your remarkable career with all of us. I felt honored, as I am sure most of us of this site have, to have taken this journey through the "Glory (and Gory) Days" with you. I echo the thoughts that you should place all these memories in a book, so the young firefighters of today and in the future can learn from your career. I look forward to breaking bread and raising a glass with you on Arthur Ave. again sometime in the not to distant future.
 

CFDMarshal

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Dan, I am honored to be a part of your circle. I look forward to the day we can raise a glass together and share the stories of life and times. I still say this needs to be a book. You are always welcomein my home in Tennessee.
 

jkal

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May 21, 2009
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Danny, thanks for sharing your wonderful stories and memories. At the end of the day, memories are all we are left with. Take care of your beautiful wife & yourself, My Brother. We had a Great time back in the day
Capt JC (ret)
FDNY
Tower Ladder 120
Brownsville, Brooklyn
 
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nfd2004

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Dan, I'm not sure if I have told you but, I do a Newsletter for the Active and Retired guys from the job here of the Ole' Homestead Town. It's called the NFD GOSSIP NEWSLETTER with just over 100 members. Yours truly (Mr NFD2004) has given himself the "self appointed" title of Chief Editor.

I think there's some guys who would also love to read your stories, but they might not be aware of "Glory Days". So if it's okay with you, "I'm going to pass those GREAT Stories onto them". They too, will get to know the "Johnny Gage", not of some Hollywood TV Series called "EMERGENCY", - BUT the REAL Stories of the FDNY written by NYCfire.net site "Johnny Gage", aka FDNY Member Dan Potter. Who also introduces us to some of the members who have been apart of it.

Dan, I can't promise you any "royalties" from it, but I "can" promise to send you your very own "complimentary copy". Your "complimentary copy" will be our own simple way of saying: "THANK YOU"

Oh yes, I failed to mention that we have a few carefully selected HONORARY Members as well. I think you might be surprised to see who our latest HONORARY Member is. He's kind of a popular guy here too.
 
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johnd248

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Well done, Dan. Enjoyed every story. I have great memories of riding with E 248 way back. Also hung out as a teenager at E 281/ L147 doing trips to the store, etc.
 

kidfrmqns

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Jun 4, 2009
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Dan, thanks for the great stories. I always look forwarded to coming on here to read "Glory Days" and I will miss this in the future.
 
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