I Just Wanna be a FIREMAN

nfd2004

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Like so many others, my father was a firefighter. I guess for not only myself, but for so many others, the job of putting out fires was just in our blood. There was something special about it that just kept our interest and not just a thing that every kid says "I wanna be a Fireman when I grow up".

Wanting to be a Fireman, "Firefighter" as they are now called, just stayed with us.

But not everybody got a chance to be a fireman, in some cases through no fault of their own.

Maybe there was a physical condition that made it impossible.
Maybe there were so many taking the test with only a few openings, that even the smartest guys had trouble scoring high enough to get the opportunity.
It might have been that it just didn't make sense to give up a much better paying job while supporting a family.
It might have been a time of fire company closings which hadn't been seen even during the days of the Great Depression.
Along with that came affirmative action which helped some, but hurt others.
Maybe the spouse had a say in it realizing that weekends or holidays were no longer a guarantee off anymore.
Then of course the danger involved that the spouse could get seriously hurt or worse.

So this is my own story of "I Just Wanna be a FIREMAN".

For me, it wasn't an easy accomplishment. In fact, I too, was in some way affected by a few of the issues I mention just above.

The story begins with my father, a returning World War II veteran looking for a job.

Growing up during the Great Depression he knew how important it was to try and get a job with some type of job security. Living in Bridgeport, Ct he decides to take a bus to downtown where the main post office is located, knowing that post office workers did NOT loose their job during that Great Depression. So that is where he is headed. Hoping to find out when the next test is coming.

So he gets off the bus at the corner and he is waking the three blocks to that post office. On the way he passes fire headquarters and there are two firefighters standing out front. As he passes he knows that fireman were never laid off during that very tough economic time either. So he asks those guys if they ever hire new firemen. They tell him there is an upcoming test and if he wants to apply he should go to city hall. So that's what he does. He goes to both the post office and city hall in Bridgeport to apply for both jobs.

But not too many people want to be firefighters. Their shift schedule is Seven Day shifts 8 am to 5 pm, followed by Two days Off. Then Seven nights 5 pm to 8 am the next day followed by Two days off. Not only that, you must remain a resident of Bridgeport and on your time off, except during your vacation time, you are on call for any major fire within the city. If you do leave the city you must call into the firehouse and leave a phone number where you can be reached if necessary. Throughout the city an alert system is activated similar to what some volunteer fire stations use today if all off duty members are to return to work. In addition to that they also received a phone call at their homes or the number they would be able to be reached.

He takes the written test and passes. He later passes a very simple medical exam and is offered the job. Although at the time, the Post Office seems to be a much better job with holidays off and no on call requirement, the door opens for him to become a Bridgeport Fireman. He is assigned to work Bridgeport Fire Headquarters, then on Middle St. The only training is Two days at the training drill tower on Bridgeport's east side behind the quarters of Engine 2, as well as the shops.

My father, who I wrote about here in another thread titled; "Our Role Models" begins his firefighting career in 1948. A guy who never thought of being a fireman, with hopes on being a "mailman". A guy who I later nicknamed "Smoke" but who understood that I highly respected him, first as a father and secondly as a firefighter who earned the highest medal during his career with the Bridgeport Fire Dept.

A guy who was my Role Model and I wanted to do the same kind of job that he did.

This is my own personnel story of my struggles to become a FIREMAN, now called "FIREFIGHTERS". From my youngest days as a child just wanting to be a FIREMAN to a RETIRED FIREFIGHTER, now as a senior citizen

As time goes on, I hope to tell that story. I hope that you will follow this story and I'm sure there are many here who will also relate to this topic.

I also hope that at times you too, will contribute your thoughts or experiences of:

"I Just Wanna be a FIREMAN", or maybe "I Just Wanna Be a FIREFIGHTER".
 
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columbusfire

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Sep 2, 2015
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Wow, that's good stuff. My firefighting career is kind of similar to your Fathers. My Father did work for the United Postal Service and my brother and I both became Firefighters. I was working on the local Township's road crew out of High school and I was a volunteer on their Fire Dept. I took a Postal exam and the paid Firefighter's exam for the Township. The Post office called and wanted me to take a driving test and physical. I asked my Dad if I should go with that job or wait to see if I would be hired on the FD. He said: Go with the Fire Dept. if you can! I asked the Chief if they were going to hire me, and he said that I had as good of a chance as anyone else. They were only hiring 3-4 FF's at that time. At 20 years old, I made the biggest decision of my life and I turned down the Postal job. I was hired on December 22nd, 1978 on the small Twp. Fire Dept. 3 years later I took the Columbus, Ohio test and joined the largest, busiest, Fire Department in the area. I retired after 36 years and I know that I made the best decision ever!
 

nfd2004

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Jun 22, 2007
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5,796
"columbusfire", there's a lot more to come about my story.

But I can tell you this, as my story goes on, we have a lot more in common than just being "on the job" and being members on this site.

It might take awhile, but just stay tuned as each chapter is told. I think there will be a time along the way that "you" might certainly appreciate.
If your father is around, "he might appreciate it too".
 

nfd2004

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Jun 22, 2007
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Well once again Brad, "THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR POSTING THAT PICTURE.

That picture is of a young (actually very handsome) Willy D (NFD2004) at about four years old. At that time he "Just wanted to be a Fireman". Hard to make it out but the rig there was a 1939 Mack pumper.

Those days long before direct deposit, if my father was off duty or working nights, he would take me to the firehouse with him to pick up his pay check. The firehouse was about two miles from our house. He didn't drive a car, so on nice days he would carry me on his shoulders and I sure loved it. When the weather was bad we would take the bus to the firehouse.

Another thing that I liked when we got on the bus was I would like to watch the change go in the deposit box and then the bus driver crank the handle to count the change and open the bottom flap to remove that cash. A photo of one has been posted on this site recently - I think in the topic "Back in the Day".

When the local bus company was going to the newer machines, those old ones were going to the junk yard and my father got one for me. I'll get a picture of it and see if Brad can post that for me too.

Anyway, back to the story of "I just Wanna Be a Fireman".

Whenever my father would take me to the firehouse, he would buy me a soda. Then I'd get to sit down with the guys at the firehouse kitchen table and they'd tell me about being a fireman. How I had to behave myself and eat all the vegetables that my mother would cook for me. And every once in awhile, I would hear the bells go off. Sometimes the hose wagon and pumper truck of Bridgeport's mostly two piece Engine Companies would go out the door on a run or sometimes the Big Ladder Truck with a driver in the back would go. But best of all, when all three trucks left with the siren going. My father always told me that if I was near the trucks when a call came in to step far back and stay out of the way.

They were such GREAT Days. I am so THANKFUL to my father "Smoke" for all he did for me. And I am also so very THANKFUL to all those guys who treated so good whenever I went in to visit any of Bridgeport's 14 firehouses.
Then it was Engine 1/Squad 5/Truck 5, Engine 2, Engine 3/Truck3, Engine 4, Engine 5, Engine 6/Truck 6, Engine 7, Engine 8, Engine 9, COMBO Eng10/Truck 10, Combo Eng11/Truck 11, Combo Eng12/Truck 12, Engine 14, Engine 15.
Later in years soon after the FDNY closed numerous fire companies in the 1970s, Bridgeport closed Engine 2, Engine 5, Engine 8, Engine 9, Combo Engine 11, Engine 14.
But they added Engine 16 and made Trucks 10 and 11 fully manned Truck Companies rather than a part of a two man Combo Truck Co.

As a young kid growing up in the 1950s it was just such a great time to be a "Wanna Be Fireman". Of course as the decades went on I was able to see for myself NOT only the FDNY War Years take place in the streets of New York City, but in other cities, including my home town of Bridgeport. Where my brother George became a firefighter too and served during Bridgeport's own set of Fire Dept War Years, along with my father during a period of time.

It was also a very busy time of fire activity in other major cities as well. In my case I saw cities like Providence, RI and Boston, Mass see that increase too. I think there is another tread on here in the History section titled: The Other War Years" that talks about that.

But for a young Willy D who just wanted to be a FIREMAN, there were some very tough days ahead. That being a young kid attending Blessed Sacrament Catholic Grammar School and "Just wanting to be a Fireman".

Next Chapter - Sister Mary O'Brian asks; "William, what do you want to be when you grow up" ?
 

nfd2004

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Thank you once again Brad. You have a young family and a fulltime time job to be concerned with, unlike this old unemployed; "I STILL Wanna Be a FIREMAN" old guy. Anyway, I sure appreciate it.

The picture above is the Old Coin Boxes that bus riders would put the change in the top. Then every once in awhile the bus driver flip down that lever and turn the crank to count the change.

As a young "Wanna Be Fireman", back in those days, if I couldn't become a Fireman, I wanted to be a "Bus Driver".

To add, here is the link to "The Other War Years" stories I also talked about above.

 

tem217

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Sep 23, 2013
Messages
319
there is an old saying..
a young boy asks a fireman.....when i grow up i want to be a fireman.
the fireman responds....sorry kid you cant do both.
 

nfd2004

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I'm now growing up and I even started going to school. But to be honest, "it sure ain't as much fun as going to the firehouse". Where I get to sit on the big firetruck and even put on a fire helmet like my father and his other firemen friends.

Anyway there's McKinley School about six blocks from my house, but my parents decide to send me to Catholic School instead. So that means I have to walk to school for about another 8 or 9 more blocks. But at least I'm growing up and I'll be able to be a Real Fireman soon.

Because I'm growing up now, my grandmother buys me my first bicycle and I sure like that. Not only that, she buys me a big basket on it so that I can go to Jake's Grocery Store on the corner and bring home the milk, bread, eggs and meat that my parents write down on a list for me to bring with me. That new bicycle and basket sure comes in handy for what "I" want to do too.

My father had given me an old pair of real fire boots. They didn't fit me very good but I could put them in the basket and chase the fire trucks now. Plus, I got an old black rain coat and a red plastic fire helmet that I could wear just like a "junior fireman". I think I still got it too and I'll see if my buddy Brad (signal 73) will post it for all you to enjoy.

I don't like school at all but somehow I pass; 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and the 4th grade. Those nuns are real tough. But now I'm headed to the 5th grade and Sister Mary O'Brian will be my teacher. Nobody likes her. I know I'm in trouble for sure now when school starts again..

During the summer I saved my allowance money that I got for doing some chores around the house. Like going to Jake's corner store, drying the dishes, and taking out the garbage.
So I went to Sears & Roebuck with my father and I saw a bicycle siren that screws onto the front fork of my bike and you just pull a chain and it makes a siren noise. Now I got everything I need to be a Junior Fireman.

But now summer vacation is over and the school year begins. I'm really not too happy about it. I had a great summer riding my bike down Stratford Ave in Bridgeport, chasing the fire trucks. Sometimes I even saw my father on that Big Hook & Ladder truck. I mean how great is that ?

But as school begins, William is NOT doing very well in the 5th grade with Sister Mary O'Brian. I sit right by the window though and there is a firehouse that isn't too far away. When the school windows are open I could hear the trucks when they start up. It's Engine 8, a single two piece engine company. When they go by we all stop and say a prayer for the firemen.

As it gets around November, my school work is not good at all. I'm not interested in that stuff Sister Mary O'Brian is teaching. I just want to be a Fireman. This school work doesn't have anything to do with driving fire trucks or putting out fires.

One day, sister Mary O'Brian gives me a note to bring home to my parents. I think I know what it is all about. I'm not doing good in school and she wants my parents to come in and talk to her. "I'm in some serious trouble". It will probably be my father that will bring me to the school for a talk with her. I just know that he's going to take "HER" side and NOT mine.

The time has come. My father is going to show up and he is going to talk to her about my school work. "THIS-IS-NOT-GOOD".

It surprises me that Sister O'Brian is actually pretty good to me when she talks with my father. She's not yelling or mad at me like she usually is. Actually everything seems to be going pretty good.

Then in front of my father, Sister Mary O'Brian asks me very politely; "William, when you grow up, what do you want to be" ? With a BIG SMILE on my face I said; "A FIREMAN".
Then I look at my father and I see something suddenly went very wrong. He's just shaking his head in some kind of disbelief. "WHAT DID I DO WRONG" ?

When we leave the school to go home, I asked my father "what did I do wrong" when I said "I want to be a Fireman". Then he told me being a fireman is a very hard dirty job. They don't pay you much, you work long hours that you can't be home, and you don't always get to be home for Christmas. Why don't you want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a priest ? Actually, "Smoke" knew what she wanted to hear, BUT I didn't know that. Because those nuns only wanted us guys to be a doctor, lawyer or a priest. But I really did want to be a fireman.

When we got home, my father told my mother about everything that happen. Then he told me no bicycle riding for the next month except on weekends. You're going to study and do homework every day after school.

I'd hear those fire trucks go by while I was doing this stupid school work at home. But no bike riding was what Smoke said and that's what he meant. Of course my grades got better and somehow the school year ended and I passed. Best of all, no more Sister Mary O'Brian and I got all summer now to ride my bike and chase the fire trucks.

The next Chapter coming up is titled: "It Can't Be - Not Again"
 

nfd2004

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In the Summer of 1963, I'm finally out of that Catholic Grammar School. There was a saying that I remember and I will quote it here:

"No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks".

That sure was true in my case. I was so glad to get out of that place known as Blessed Sacrament School. I am about to enter a public high school. It is actually a State Trade School called Bullard Havens.

The schedule for this High School/Trade School is one week of regular classroom work followed by one week of trade work. It's not too bad and although I still hate classroom work, it's just every other week now.

I also get a part time job at the neighborhood drug store and I'm able to buy a used car and pay the insurance. In addition to that, Radio Shack comes out with a tunable VHF Radio, and you can buy one crystal for your favorite channel. I get a crystal for the Bridgeport Fire Dept. I buy two of those radios. One for the house and one for the car. Now I can chase the fires throughout the entire city. "Life is getting better".

The four years of high school go by pretty quick. Of course I'm no honor student but I make it through. It is now the summer of 1967 and I'm working more hours a week at that drug store. My father suggest that I go to a brand new Community College. For me, I could still work part time at that drug store and chase the fires. The fact that I could still chase the fires sounds good to me.

But working that drug store, fulltime before I go to that first semester changes my life forever. A guy comes in to buy a couple of things. Its kind of slow so I start to talk to the guy. He's not one of the locals who stop in. As we talk, I am able to pick up a NYC accent. I ask him if he's from New York and he tells me yes. I just happen to mention to him that "I Wanna Be A Fireman".

Then, never expecting this; "he tells me that he is a fireman in Brooklyn and the firehouse he works at also has the Rescue Company in the firehouse too". He then gives me a phone number to call him. He says give me a call and when I'm working I'll show you around. "I CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING". To me, "I just won the lottery". I had never been inside a NYC firehouse. I would watch the local news on television and sometimes see the fires they get. Bridgeport of course is GREAT - BUT - "I'm heading to the biggest city fire dept in the entire country".

For me, this will be an entirely new experience. It is the Summer of 1967 and the FDNY War Years are about to begin.

I think the topic "My Younger Buff Years" replies # 2 and # 3 dated May, 2009 on this site describes it best.

So here is that link.

 
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