It Was One Hell of a Ride



Bruckner Blvd and Ward Ave., 10472

Neighborhood: Bronx, East Bronx

Fuck… you… fireman.

I had never known such rage.

There was no conscious thought to exiting the rig and beating each member of this group to death.

Unguided, my hand found its way to the door handle.

But try as I might, the door would not open.

That’s when I started to climb out of the rig through the half-open window, while simultaneously shouting an unbroken stream of the most explicit profanities.

Bearing witness to this unexpected turn of events, Bob, the chauffeur, grabbed my belt with one hand, the steering wheel with the other, and hit the gas while hollering: “No Lou no, it’s not worth it!”

Before the rig travels a block, my fury has dissipated, but I know my days of fighting fires are finished.

I just can’t take anymore.

The madness that laid waste to vast areas of our city during the sixties and seventies had finally consumed itself and now the job is just standard big city firefighting, which is madness with the anarchy removed.

It is 1988 and I am a Lieutenant assigned to Engine Company 96, located on Story Ave. in the Bronx, which is surrounded by numerous “Housing Projects.”

With the passing of clean air laws, the incinerators of all these buildings were converted to compactors and it seems to me that some residents delight in setting these machines afire.

Since they are housed in shafts originally constructed for incinerators, the actual fire danger to the buildings tenants is minimal.

However, the public hallways filled with a foul smelling reek that left its stench behind long after the smoke itself had dissipated.

Meanwhile, down in the cellar, firefighters had to spend significant periods of time removing and extinguishing from the bowels of these machines enormous amounts of soiled diapers, used sanitary napkins, decomposing food and every other type of nauseating household garbage.

We do this so frequently and became so proficient at it that our firehouse is known around the job as Compactor College!

Another pain in the ass is the extremely high rate of false alarms transmitted in our response area.

Do not get me wrong, 96 had their share of real fires and they were good at fighting them.

But the large amount of bullshit was wearing me down.

I just don’t realize it.

It is close to 4AM, and we’ve been running all night.

As the rig pulls up to what we all know will be simply another false alarm, I am compactor and false alarmed out.

This time, however, instead of the usual no one in sight, there are half a dozen denizens of the night, populating the sidewalk alongside the alarm box.

Rolling down the window I inquire, where’s the fire?

One of these mutts locks eyes with me and says, “Fuck you, fireman.”

Haven’t we all seen this headline in the newspapers?


Coworkers say, HE JUST SNAPPED

Fuck… you… fireman.

Those three words give me insight into the psyche of the crazed gunman.

Simply put, it’s the concept of the last straw.

The rational half of the brain says: I cannot deal with this shit any longer.

I’m going for a coffee break.

Control of the body is then taken over by the wicked half of the brain, whose only rule is Fuck everybody.

I’m going to shoot them all and someone else can clean up the mess!

This is when violence erupts and it does not cease until there is only one, wild-eyed, blood-spattered, howling at the moon person left standing.

At this point, Mister Rational returns from his coffee break, sees what Mister Wicked has done and says, Oh Shit, I’m screwed now.

Then he puts the gun barrel into his mouth and pulls the trigger one last time!

Upon returning to quarters, I begin looking through our copy of The Department Orders, searching for what we call a day job while contemplating what would have happened if the door on the rig had opened and why it had not.

The DOs are to the fire department what a local newspaper is to a small town.

They are of interest to everyone, because everything published in them affects you or someone you know personally.

The information contained includes among other things, hirings and firings, changes to the rules and regulations, and requests for personnel to fill jobs other than firefighting.

Within a month, I find a day job with the Bureau of Training, where I finished out my twenty-seven year career filling a variety of roles, never again setting foot upon a fire truck.

If given the chance to live my life a second time, I would not become a firefighter; it just took too great a toll.

Physically my liver, lungs and legs have taken quite a beating.

Psychologically all the horrible situations I ever encountered still reside in my brain.

I never know when they will commandeer my attention, as they often do, returning me to places I’d rather not be.

Nevertheless, I would not trade a minute of it because…it was one hell of a ride!


A former New York City fire fighter, Thomas R. Ziegler is now a flight attendant for jetBlue Airlines

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§ 2 Responses to “It Was One Hell of a Ride”

  • Mike Cacciola says:

    Hey Tom, hope you are doing well. I remember the first day you and I started in the Fitness unit. Great memories

  • Amanda lappner says:

    Hi Thomas,
    I’m reading your stories like I said I would. 🙂

§ Leave a Reply

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