One minute a guy is in the firehouse reading a book or cooking up a steak or talking to a loved one on his cell phone, the next he’s walking into a house that’s billowing thick, black smoke.
The New York Fire Department has now lost 1,334 members in 142 years. Almost a thousand would be an extraordinary figure for a peacetime profession – but then we had the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the loss of 343 men.
But these figures can mask the everyday heroism that a firefighter has to display. The term “New York’s Bravest” isn’t something that was thought up by some Madison Avenue advertising agency. It simply states a fact.
In some other careers requiring nerve, there’s more latitude in the amount of risk one is willing to take in a given situation. Death and serious injury strikes more arbitrarily if you’re a firefighter — when you’re doing what’s expected. On Dec. 18, 1998, James Bohan, a native of Queens and the son of Irish immigrants, ran up 10 stories of a Brooklyn building. He was just doing his job and so were his colleagues, Joseph Cavalieri and Christopher Bopp. All three died when they were engulfed by a huge fireball.
For Michael Reilly, death came on a wet Sunday afternoon in a store in the Bronx. He was 25 and just two months out of the academy. His colleague Howard Carpluk died Monday after 20 years of service.
When we commemorate those who died five years ago on this upcoming Sept. 11, let’s not forget Bohan or Cavialieri or Bopp or Carpluk or Reilly, either, or any one of the 1,334.