1. #1
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    Here, There, Everywhere

    Thumbs up Veteran fireman hangs up the hose

    Veteran fireman hangs up the hose

    On Sunday, May 22, Anthony Catapano will end 42 years of eating smoke.
    But it's not because he has had his fill.

    Even after 42 years as a city firefighter, Catapano, who turns 65 the day he retires, hasn't had enough of Engine 202 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where he has served since Nov. 3, 1963.

    "I haven't made any plans," Catapano said with a grin. "I would have liked to stay a few more years, but that is not to be. But I'll be back here for lunch and dinner with these guys.

    "This is a tough job to leave."

    Catapano will pull two tours - read that shifts - on Saturday before ending his career on Sunday morning, his birthday.

    And when he walks out of the door, Catapano also will end his stint as the longest-serving active firefighter in the department.

    "I was 22 when I joined the department. The recruiter told me I could retire at 42," Catapano said. "I thought he meant 42 years on the job."

    "He's in great shape, better shape than some of these guys in the firehouse," said Lt. John Malley, who serves with Catapano at Engine 202. "He gets better with age."

    Born in South Brooklyn (now the Park Slope/Boerum Hill border), Catapano said his truck driver father, Anthony, steered him toward finding a city job after he finished Manual Training High School, now John Jay High in Park Slope.

    So after jobs at a shipping company, as a reimbursement clerk at Chemical Bank ("I made sure other banks got their money back") and a brief stint in the Army Reserves ("I was in military intelligence; go figure," he said), Catapano and his best man, Anthony Tadduni, joined the Fire Department, persuaded in part by the idea of making $6,700 after three years on the job.

    It was a different Fire Department.

    The department training facilities were on Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island. The New York City Fire Academy is now on Randalls Island.

    Much of the training was done on the job - veteran firefighters took rookies under their wings and taught them how to stay alive.

    "This job is built on training," Catapano said. "You have to be trained to be at 100% all of the time."

    And few firefighters wore gas masks at a blaze.

    "They kept the gas masks in a suitcase," Catapano said. "It took too much time to take them out of the case and put them on, especially if you were the first squad at the scene. So nobody wore them. Now they're part of your gear, right at the back of your seat in the fire truck."

    One other difference between the department then and now is the present-day absence of men like Catapano - a sizable portion of today's firefighters joined the department after Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center collapse devoured 341 members of the FDNY and two FDNY paramedics.

    Seven of those fallen were from Catapano's Red Hook firehouse, home of Ladder 101 and Engine 202.

    "Back then there were a lot of senior men on the job who could share their experience with you. You could learn from them," Catapano said. "Now we have 5,000 men with less than three years on the job. The experience is just not here today."

    What he loved and still loves about the job is the adrenaline rush, the idea of never knowing what you'll face on the job each day.

    And there were many fires.

    Before 9/11, Catapano remembers blazes like the one at the St. George Hotel in downtown Brooklyn.

    "That was the first time I ever heard a fire going 18 alarms," he said. "That never happened before that day because there was no such thing as 18 alarms."

    He remembers sitting in the firehouse and hearing several explosions. When crew members ran out to see what was happening, they saw 50-gallon drums of chemicals shooting into the air from a fire at a factory down the street.

    And then there was the fire, the one that changed us all. Catapano was at the doctor's office in downtown Brooklyn, being treated for a leg injury he had received a few weeks earlier, when the planes hit the World Trade Center.

    He rushed to the firehouse, where he and several other late arrivals commandeered a city bus and went to the scene, arriving after the collapse.

    "We lost a lot of good men that day," he said. "I knew quite a few of them. We didn't find out until late that night that we lost seven men from this house.

    "That changed the Fire Department, and changed the world."

    Catapano's years on the job also helped him hone his cooking skills.

    "I learned how to cook from my mom, dad and the guys at the firehouse," he said. "My specialty is whatever you want."

    He means it. In 1987, Catapano and other house chefs penned "The Firehouse Cookbook" and donated all sale receipts to the burn unit of Weill Cornell Medical Center. The book sold a few hundred thousand copies and earned Catapano several appearances on the Phil Donohue show.

    He said his wife, Marie, has "always been very receptive to what I do. I've been a union delegate for over 30 years, and she has put up with all the things I have to do."

    He also has a son, Anthony, who is a firefighter also stationed in Brooklyn; two daughters - Audra Fox and Natalie Pelligrino - and five grandchildren.

    "He's a great guy," said Vito Lepone, a retired firefighter who also visits the Richards St. firehouse regularly. "I broke him in on the job."

    "I've always loved being a fireman," Catapano said. "I can count the number of days I didn't want to be here."

    Notes on a career

    Here are some facts about Anthony Catapano's career, courtesy of James Long in the FDNY press office:

    Served with seven mayors: Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Abe Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg.

    Union delegate for 30 years.

    Joined the department 14 months before the Mets played their first game at Shea Stadium.

    Son Anthony Catapano Jr. is a firefighter in Brooklyn.

    Clem Richardson

    Originally published on May 6, 2005

  2. #2
    tny is offline
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    I've always loved -- talking to, being told stories and reading about guys like Anthony.

    Anthony and others like him are the Real Deal.

    He's been fighting fires for only a few years less than I'm on this earth. Thanks for posting this FFFRED, reading this short article about him made my day.

    It would be some great read to gather his FD experiences over 42 years and put it on paper.

    Congratulations - Anthony.
    Stay Safe.
    Last edited by tjsnys; 05-06-2005 at 01:32 PM.

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    May 2005


    congratualations tony (cat) catapano. i worked in engine 202 for 1 year and tony was a pleasure to work with.stay safe and god bless you tony 42 years of outstanding service to the red hook raiders.

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    Thumbs up Bump

    FDNY will miss his experience and knowledge. Tip of my hat to him.

  5. #5
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    Oct 2002
    London, England


    Guys like this are what make this the best job in the World....

    I hope he nows enjoys a very long, healthy and happy retirement. I'll raise a glass to him omn Sunday!!!!
    Steve Dude
    IACOJ member

    London Fire Brigade...."Can Do"

    'Irony'... It's a British thing.

  6. #6
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    Sep 2004
    Washington, DC/Northern Virginia


    Originally posted by SteveDude
    Guys like this are what make this the best job in the World....

    I hope he nows enjoys a very long, healthy and happy retirement. I'll raise a glass to him omn Sunday!!!!
    Or is it that the best job in the world entices guys like him to stick around so long?!?!

    Great Job!
    Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
    -Big Russ

    Learn from the mistakes of others; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

  7. #7
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    TCFire's Avatar
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    Lockport, New York

    Thumbs up

    We should all be so lucky!!! Congratulations and may he have a very long and happy retirement.

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    I'll tip my Harp draft to him tomorrow night. All the best, brother.

  9. #9
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    Weruj1's Avatar
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    Dec 1999
    NW Ohio


    WOW !! 42 years, what a great deal........you know Tony had to be a great story teler of fires from days gone by. You have done your job, passed on wisdom, and smacked a pup, enjoy !
    IACOJ both divisions and PROUD OF IT !
    Pardon me sir.. .....but I believe we are all over here !
    ATTENTION ALL SHOPPERS: Will the dead horse please report to the forums.(thanks Motown)
    RAY WAS HERE 08/28/05
    LETHA' FOREVA' ! 010607
    I'm sorry, I haven't been paying much attention for the last 3 hours.....what were we discussing?
    "but I guarentee you I will FF your arse off" from>
    http://www.firehouse.com/forums/show...60#post1137060post 115

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    Omar, I have that cookbook you are talking about. Got it when I first started my career job 19 yrs ago!!!

    My Helmet is off *** Congratlulations Anthony !!! *** NYC is losing a LOT of Experience !!!

  11. #11
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    Apr 2003


    That's great that he put so much time on the job. Too bad the veterans from the war years are fading away. Hopefully the traditions and knowledge from those guys will continue on for a long time to come!

  12. #12
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    No. Providence R.I. : Land of the "How ya doins"


    Best of Luck to the salty veteran on a happy and healthy retirement!!
    "I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we know the work which a fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling."

    Edward F. Croker
    Chief 1899-1911
    Fire Dept. City of New York

    HOOK N' CAN of the I.A.C.O.J.

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