It’s 1978, the annual “summer offensive” is well underway and chaos rules the streets.
The ghettoes are burning and there are more fires than there are units to fight them.
If TV stars and politicians resided here, you could bet we would be operating with a full second alarm assignment but here in Hunts Point we will be lucky to get two engines and two trucks.
It’s a top floor fire in a five-story tenement, Rod’s got the roof and I’m the OutsideVentMan.
He starts the saw, cuts a quick observation hole into the roof and the red devil pops out to say hello.
This tells us that the fire has entered and is burning inside of the cockloft.
The cockloft is an open area above the top floor ceilings and beneath the roof that encompasses the entire length and width of a building and contains as much wood as a small lumberyard.
Ladder 48 Roof to Battalion 3 K, we got fire in the cockloft. With that radio notification made, it’s time to cut an initial 4’ by 4’ main ventilation hole directly over the seat of the fire in the apartment below. Rod is cutting; his attention totally focused on the carbide tipped saw blade slicing through the roof at 6,000 RPM.
You cut a hole by bending forward at the waist, inserting the blade into the roof and then walking backwards while doubled over, your eyes never leaving that blade.
I’m his safetyman, his eyes and ears while he’s cutting. Holding the back of his turnout coat, I’m guiding him along when Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame shows up on the roof of the building behind us in the form of a dozen or so neighborhood youths who have chosen to make us their afternoon entertainment.
A twenty-foot alley separates the buildings, which places us well within range of their “Fuck you firemans” verbal abuse.
Early in my career, I learned to ignore irrelevant bullshit while operating, so I’m ignoring the shit out of these pricks.
This does not make them happy and it isn’t long after their arrival that the first missile impacts my helmet.
Since their cursing is ineffective, the kiddies up the ante by removing the coping tiles from the roof of their building, smashing them into baseball sized pieces and initiating a game of fuck up the fireman.
This ain’t some kind of sporting event where we can call a time-out; we got guys moving into the fire apartment; if the roof isn’t opened, they’ll cook.
Retreating out of range is not a viable option.
Ladder 48 OV to Battalion 3, urgent K.
I explain the situation to the chief and he acknowledges the transmission.
Our cutting and their bombardment both continue.
Wack! Square in the back, that one really hurt.
They are having a grand old time.
Finally, the hole is cut and opened… time for us to run away!
At exactly that moment, the roof door of our attackers building explodes open and out surges a flood of blue uniforms with badges removed.
PAYBACK has arrived and we got front row seats.
I have never seen so many nightstick swinging cops in one small place in my life.
Here is a bit of information about nightsticks.
They are used to enforce compliance through pain.
You do not hit someone on their head unless you want to kill them.
What you do is aim at the knees, elbows, forearms, any bony place will do.
This won’t kill them but it will hurt like hell.
For the next several minutes, Rod and I watch gleefully as these youths learn about nightsticks and bony places the hard way. Then as quickly as they appeared the cops are gone. No collars, court appearances, or bleeding heart lawyers to get in the way, just a dozen assholes lying on a roof whimpering.
Street justice at its finest!