A beaten body sat slumped on the back step of an anonymous pumper. We nearly walked right by Danny without recognizing him. Danny’s turnout coat was half open and covered with remnants of the building burning at the corner of Townsend Avenue and the Cross Bronx Expressway. His face and hands were black with soot. Steam seaped from his helmetless blond crown as he raised his head to acknowledge our entreaties. Danny’s eyes were red and glassy, and at first couldn’t register his old buddies. A faint smile creased Danny’s lips as he laboriously raised an arm that appeared to weigh a thousand pounds.
-Hey Danny! Hey Danny, you OK?
Danny looked far from OK, but we had to move on. We were first due truck on the third alarm and we’d been put right to work. We said a quick hello and continued toward our assignment.
-Good to see ya Danny.
-Yeah Dan, we’ll talk to you later.
-See ya Danny-Boy.
Danny had gotten what he wanted. After a couple of years he transferred out of our Engine Company because he wanted more work. More work in FD language means more “fire duty.” We were a busy company, but there were numerous firehouses throughout the Bronx with less bullshit and more fire. When I was a cop guys couldn’t wait to get some seniority so they could transfer out of the action to slower precincts, but the fire department was the opposite. The young guys craved the action. They joined the department to fight fires! They wanted into the busy houses. Busy police precincts are loaded with applications to transfer out; busy firehouses are backlogged with applications to transfer in. You actually might need some juice to get into one of these firehouses. As crazy as it sounds, firefighters love fire.
Danny was one of these guys. He found an excellent company in the West Bronx with a reputation for being very aggressive. Believe me, if you are considered an aggressive fire company by other firehouses, then that makes you something special. Firefighters usually won’t give that kind of accolade to any company but their own.
Engine 42 was a single engine company full of free spirits and balls. If they were first due at a fire, there was no way they were giving up that first hoseline until the fire was out. These guys were going wherever, and doing whatever it took to get the job done. The house was a perfect fit for Danny.
Danny was like a lot of young studs that join the FD. He had a rock-hard body and a will to match. He had an easy smile and a quick wit. Danny epitomized the boyish charm that so many of these men have. They love people and life so much, yet they risk it all. It must be the danger that intensifies the joy of the times we spent together. When you are an active firefighter, you don’t like your brothers, you love them!
My first encounter with Engine 42 was not on the fire ground but on a Bronx baseball field. It was my first year on the job and we were scheduled to play 42 to open the Fire Department softball season. As I arrived at the field there were these lunatics from 42 running around the field wearing nothing but cleats and women’s dresses. It was a hilarious sight. I learned later that this was an annual event for them on opening day. They played the entire doubleheader in dresses. They couldn’t play worth a shit, but they knew how to have a good time.
After the fire was put under control our company returned to the street. It was then that we found out that Danny was taken to the hospital. Danny had suffered burns to his face, neck, knees and thighs. He would spend the next month recovering at the Burn Center of New York Hospital. When we walked past Danny earlier he wasn’t just dazed, he was in shock.
The fire was on the top floor of a large H type multiple dwelling on the corner of Townsend and 174th Street. The floor was consumed in fire and engine 42 was advancing the first line onto that floor, knocking down fire as they attacked the red devil.
Danny was on the knob and pushing hard into the beast, making good progress. As the building’s exterior windows exploded and the fire got a fresh feeding of outside air, the tide suddenly turned. The beast erupted and literally blew Danny and his company off the floor into the stairwell. The introduction of new air had created a backdraft, a kind of explosion. Stunned and burned, and in the tradition of an extraordinary spirit, Danny refused to back down. He and the members of 42 attacked that son of a bitch until they knocked down the main body of fire. Several guys on the line were burned, but Danny got the worst of it because he was in the front.
Every once in a while, throughout my career, Danny’s path and mine would cross. We’d see each other and be transported in time. Good times, not bad. I remember fires. I remember dresses. I remember how to laugh. I remember how much I love Danny, and the ten thousand like him.