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    Default Past 50, and Still Running Into the Flames

    The New York Times

    August 27, 2007
    Past 50, and Still Running Into the Flames


    Firefighter John Hagemann, center, will be 50 next year. “I’m working with the sons of 11 firemen I worked with,” he said.


    By MICHAEL WILSON

    There was a two-digit footnote to tragedy tucked behind the name of a fallen firefighter, Robert Beddia, who died Aug. 18 in the blaze at the Deutsche Bank skyscraper at ground zero. It was his age.

    Firefighter Beddia was 53, the senior man at his SoHo firehouse and the senior firefighter at the seven-alarm fire that day. He was one of only 502 firefighters aged 50 or older on a force of more than 9,000 uniformed firefighters.

    He was said to be in outstanding physical condition, and like every member of the force, he had to undergo an annual physical. The mazelike conditions at the building, and a broken standpipe that denied water to firefighters, are seen as the chief culprits in his death. The man who died with him, Joseph Graffagnino, was 33.

    Still, the thought of a 53-year-old man hauling a fire hose up the stairs of a burning skyscraper surprised some members of his own department.

    “I hear people talking on my job, ‘Why didn’t he retire and do something else?’ ” said Firefighter Daniel McCarthy, 54. “The majority are thinking they’re going to work 20 years and get out. That wasn’t the case when I came on. I understand why he was still working.”

    Firefighter Beddia carried the tools every firefighter must. They included a thick bunker coat, a mask, an emergency rope-and-pulley system, a hose and, on his back, a Scott air pack — 75 pounds of gear, on a sunny August day, in a burning building.

    The six-pound rope system was devised after a fatal fire in 2005.

    “This thing has added quite a bit of weight to our pants and our shoulders,” said Firefighter John Hagemann, who will be 50 next year. “A lot of guys are having back problems. It’s very difficult to carry. Your coat doesn’t go over it properly. If you don’t stay in shape, you’re not going to be able to do the job.”

    In a city where the faces staring from the windows of passing fire trucks mostly seem to belong to firefighters about half that age, Firefighter Beddia stood out, as do his peers, the senior rank-and-file members of the department.

    They have served two decades or more and could retire any day, but choose not to. They watched as a group of firefighters and officers more than double their number put in their retirement papers the year after Sept. 11, 2001, and now, for many, they are alone among their peers in a given firehouse.

    In a department of 9,090 uniformed firefighters, 502 of them, or 5.5 percent, are 50 or older, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. This does not include supervisors, like chiefs and captains, who do not routinely carry gear into buildings. The 502 include 123 firefighters who are 50 and 9 firefighters in their 60s. Sixty-five firefighters are 53. The mandatory retirement age is 65. The average age of a firefighter is between 35 and 36.

    Firefighters older than 50, the gatekeepers of a job steeped in tradition and reliant on on-the-job training, were a much more common sight six years ago. Twenty of them died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

    But the department lost many more veterans to retirement in 2002. A firefighter’s pension is based on the last year of pay, and for those with 20 years under their belts and a large amount of overtime from working at ground zero, retirement, even if it seemed earlier than expected, was too good to pass up. A record 1,293 firefighters retired in 2002.

    The annual physicals for firefighters include tests of vision, hearing and blood pressure, as well as tests under physical exertion, like climbing stairs, and blood tests. Blood pressure is checked before and after the climbing. Those who do not pass are reassigned to light duty or to an administrative job. The number of firefighters 50 and older on light duty was not available.

    Several firefighters with 20 or more years of experience said that the number of men their age had never seemed smaller. They spoke of the new challenges since they were probies, or first-year firefighters, from generation gaps around the kitchen table to sore knees and weary backs.

    “You can’t do the things you used to do when you turn 50,” said Firefighter Lawrence Naughton, 51, of Engine 219 in Brooklyn. “Most things you can do, but just not as long as the young kids. It takes me a little longer to go up the stairs. I pretty much just drive now.”

    Firefighter Hagemann looks around the kitchen of his Brooklyn firehouse and sees old friends in the faces of the firefighters sitting around the table. Not because they themselves are old, but because he knew their fathers.

    “I’m working with the sons of 11 firemen I worked with over the years,” Firefighter Hagemann said. The senior firefighter at Ladder 147 in Ditmas Park, he holds a position of authority and respect, but that can be a lonely place as well.

    “I don’t have my pals that I can say, ‘Hey, you want to go out and have a beer?’ ” he said. He considered their sons. “These guys would be happy to have a beer with me. But it’s not the guys I came up with.

    “I read a lot. I find the young people don’t read much,” Firefighter Hagemann said. “They’re deep into the really trivial pop culture, things that don’t matter to me at all. Like, Paris Hilton kind of stuff.”

    Much about the job has changed on this group’s watch. Back when these firefighters started, in the 1980s, they wore much less gear. In 1994, a fire on Watts Street in SoHo that killed two firefighters and a captain speeded up the introduction of new “bunker gear,” designed to protect firefighters from burns.

    Firefighter Hagemann was 36 at the time. “I quickly got used to that,” he said.

    But the new harness and rope system, introduced after the deaths of two firefighters who fell from a burning apartment in the Bronx in 2005, was a different story.

    “That almost caused me to retire a year ago,” he said.

    Fitness is a constant issue. Firefighter Hagemann said an out-of-shape firefighter would quickly draw the ire of his colleagues on the truck.

    “It’s, ‘If you go down, now I’ve got to get you out of there,’ ” he said. “As far as for myself, I feel I can still keep up.”

    Firefighter McCarthy said he ran four or five miles a day and used a stair machine to stay in shape. “It’s important to me to maintain that, to do the job I want to do,” he said. “Once you become 50, you have to do some sort of conditioning program.”

    Firefighter Larry D. Schneckenburger, who will be 50 in February, earned a department medal last year when, hearing gunshots outside his firehouse in Brownsville, Brooklyn, he ran outside to see two men in a running gun battle, and schoolchildren nearby. He grabbed two children and shooed the rest back to the school. No one was hurt.

    But climbing stairs has not gotten any easier.

    “The young guys, they race each other,” he said. “Me? When I’ve got to get up, I get up. But I pray the elevator’s working.”

    Firefighter William H. Smith III, 53, of Ladder 58 in the Bronx, said he ran every day. “They emphasize that now,” he said of the department. “If I couldn’t stay in shape and do the job, I’d have to leave.” He said the most difficult part was the stairs. “In this neighborhood, 10 floors, four or five times a night, that’s nothing.”

    For Firefighter Naughton, the biggest changes came in the firehouse diet. “These young kids want healthier food,” he said. “We used to cook with all kinds of butter and everything else. Now they eat a bunch of vegetables. I try to fight it, but you can’t win every battle.”

    Every death in the line of duty makes some firefighters question whether it is time to retire. “You start to think, is this fair to my family?” said Firefighter Hagemann. “I’ve made it this far. Should I keep risking this?” He said he hoped to work four more years.

    The thought of retiring is, for some, no more pleasant than dwelling on suffering from an accident. In a culture that does not consider it unusual for a firefighter to find reasons to drop by the firehouse while on vacation, the older firefighters fear that retirement will create too great a void.

    “Guys talk about retiring, but they have a very difficult time pulling the trigger,” said Firefighter McCarthy. “When I’m home for a couple of days, I can’t wait to get back to the firehouse.”

    He has 20 years on the job, and is in no hurry himself.

    “Of course that day is going to come,” he said. “You don’t want to think about it. It’s a big part of your life to give up. I see guys retired who aren’t handling it well. I don’t know how well I would handle it, emotionally.”

    Trymaine Lee contributed reporting.

    FTM-PTB

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    Nice article. Friend of mine, 48, who moved down to Georgia last year just got hired as a full time firefighter last month. He's going through the academy and EMT school in the coming weeks. Never too old!

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    My Pops retired when was 56 or 57. He said one day his body just let him know that you couldn't go anymore like he used to be able to.


    It is tragic to have a FF die on the job. It is even worse when that FF is 50 years old and has so been on the job for so long because of all the knowledge that is lost with his passing.

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    Age is a just a number... it's positive atttitude and staying healthy/fit that makes the person!
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    I'm 54 with a herniated disc and I don't intend to slow down any day soon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dragonfyre View Post
    I'm 54 with a herniated disc and I don't intend to slow down any day soon.
    You old bahstid!

    I can say that to you... I'm 53

    Of course, Harve Woods has us all beat!
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    How about 56 yrs old, with 38 yrs in the service. Have spent the last 15 years competing in the Firefighters Combat Challenge. I have a buddy that was hired by Fairfax Co. at 56 y/o.

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    Exactly Gonz,

    Age is nothing but a number, if one can do the job, stay as long as you want. To many FF is not a job, but a lifestyle and it is hard to leave.

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    Post Old salty dogs

    Fred, as I read this post, I couldn't help thinking about The Bravest episode at Res1cue (pre-9/11) with 63-year-old (?) Joseph Angelini. I watched that man hump a pak and tools down the block to a job like he was 18 again. I was extremely impressed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fitguy51 View Post
    How about 56 yrs old, with 38 yrs in the service. Have spent the last 15 years competing in the Firefighters Combat Challenge. I have a buddy that was hired by Fairfax Co. at 56 y/o.

    honestly,impressive.just because here,career or poc or volunteer firefighters are "on retirement" at the age of 55 years.
    "sauver ou périr"

    "courage et dévouement"

    2 french mottoes in french fire service.

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    Fred read the Times?!?!?!?! Holy Moly!
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    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Res45cuE View Post
    Fred, as I read this post, I couldn't help thinking about The Bravest episode at Res1cue (pre-9/11) with 63-year-old (?) Joseph Angelini. I watched that man hump a pak and tools down the block to a job like he was 18 again. I was extremely impressed.
    That man could out work the youngest man on this job...it is a d@mn shame we lost so many men like him.

    FTM-PTB

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    Quote Originally Posted by DennisTheMenace View Post
    Fred read the Times?!?!?!?! Holy Moly!
    Everyday...on line as I don't actively support treasonous liberals who seek to undo the very fabric of my country with my hard earned cash!



    FTM-PTB

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    Quote Originally Posted by jccrabby3084 View Post
    Exactly Gonz,

    Age is nothing but a number, if one can do the job, stay as long as you want. To many FF is not a job, but a lifestyle and it is hard to leave.
    Does that it's only a number thing apply to the young as well as the old?

    We have a couple of guys in our department in their 60s. One is a retired state trooper, the other a retired City of New York fire fighter. We also have a large number in their 50s. Many of us old guys still do it because there is no one to take our place. Only recently have we gotten any new guys under the age of 30.

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    Default 50+ and still loving it

    My father is 54 years old and has been in the fire service now for 33 years. Each year he says he will retire and each year I sit down to plan a retirement party. That is the funny part he wont retire, in fact I joined a neighboring department to his and we frequently ran calls together. As soon as the pager went off it was a race down the hall of who could get into the POV first to drive to the scene or station. I guess in a way he has become a role model for me on how to do this job as well as what the job used to be like.

    Enough rambling, just wanted to add that into the 50 and over thread here.

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    Talking Uh Huh..............

    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post

    Of course, Harve Woods has us all beat!

    Well, as a matter of fact...............

    I'll be 66 come Nov. 2nd.....


    But, MOST IMPORTANT, the Doc says that I'm still in good shape, and capable of getting it done. When I can't do the job, I'll move on to other things. Still at the VFD, of course.
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    Quote Originally Posted by hwoods View Post
    Well, as a matter of fact...............

    I'll be 66 come Nov. 2nd.....


    But, MOST IMPORTANT, the Doc says that I'm still in good shape, and capable of getting it done.
    Thank god for the little blue pill!!!





    er....uh.....wait....what?

    Jason Knecht
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    Quote Originally Posted by hwoods View Post
    Well, as a matter of fact...............

    I'll be 66 come Nov. 2nd.....


    But, MOST IMPORTANT, the Doc says that I'm still in good shape, and capable of getting it done. When I can't do the job, I'll move on to other things. Still at the VFD, of course.
    We have a couple of guys older (71 & 72) than you here that are still in great shape (they're farmers so they have a free workout program) pass all the physicals and do the interior training.
    I have to agree with those that say it's not everyone that can do it, but why should age matter ? I'd trust these guys before some of the tub '0 lard 30somethings that are out there.

    Larry

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    Default 49 and loving it

    I am 49 and just joined the Fire Service last year. I love every minute and just wish I had found it sooner, but better late than never. At this age I have to really work to keep strength/agility/endurance up but it can be done. I will keep it up as long as I'm an asset to our department. I'm pretty quick going up a ladder and have no fear of heights, so I might go on the roof before some of the fellows. They are stronger than me, but I promise you that if somebody goes down I will pull them out. If they can't count on me for this, I should quit, and for now I can do the job.

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    I wish I had most of the fire knowledge that some of these "older guys" have that have been around for ages.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fire0099881 View Post
    I wish I had most of the fire knowledge that some of these "older guys" have that have been around for ages.
    yeah,knowledges and experiences,very useful in fire service when you get "old."ans wisdom very useful too.
    "sauver ou périr"

    "courage et dévouement"

    2 french mottoes in french fire service.

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    I'm always surprised by the how old the senior Guys on the job in FDNY are... When I stayed over a E37/L40 in 2002 I was pretty average in age... 33 at that time, but there were only a few Guys at that Firehouse who had more time in than me...I had 15 in back then, but there were a lot of Guys with my sort of time in but a lot older than me, Guys I assumed had done 15-25 years.

    OK, at 39 I am a young 20 year man, because I am one of the few who joined at 18 (just a month short of 19)...But most of the Guys in LFB who have my time in are in their early 40's and not 50's as a lot seem to be in FDNY. We have to do 30 years to collect the pension, or be at least 50. That will be 31 years and 1 month I have to do...but I may well go on to 55.

    Anyone with 25 plus years who reaches 50 can also go on pretty much a full pension. in 2004 we lost a lot of the massive 1974 intake and since then a lot of the 1978 Guys have been going...the vast majority of them will be gone by the end of next year.

    It seems to me that up until afew years ago, there were a hell of a lot of 50+ Guys on the job who came in during the 70's... they have all mostly gone now and just a handful of the 6800 personnel hail from that era. That is a lot of experience to go and all of a sudden it is all of us 1980's Firefighters who arethe 'Vets' I ain't even 40 yet and I am treated like Old Man River!!!!
    Steve Dude
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveDude View Post
    I'm always surprised by the how old the senior Guys on the job in FDNY are... When I stayed over a E37/L40 in 2002 I was pretty average in age... 33 at that time, but there were only a few Guys at that Firehouse who had more time in than me...I had 15 in back then, but there were a lot of Guys with my sort of time in but a lot older than me, Guys I assumed had done 15-25 years.

    OK, at 39 I am a young 20 year man, because I am one of the few who joined at 18 (just a month short of 19)...But most of the Guys in LFB who have my time in are in their early 40's and not 50's as a lot seem to be in FDNY. We have to do 30 years to collect the pension, or be at least 50. That will be 31 years and 1 month I have to do...but I may well go on to 55.

    Anyone with 25 plus years who reaches 50 can also go on pretty much a full pension. in 2004 we lost a lot of the massive 1974 intake and since then a lot of the 1978 Guys have been going...the vast majority of them will be gone by the end of next year.

    It seems to me that up until afew years ago, there were a hell of a lot of 50+ Guys on the job who came in during the 70's... they have all mostly gone now and just a handful of the 6800 personnel hail from that era. That is a lot of experience to go and all of a sudden it is all of us 1980's Firefighters who arethe 'Vets' I ain't even 40 yet and I am treated like Old Man River!!!!

    "Old Man River"??........... Tell me about it!..... In 1985, we got 20 year retirement @ 50% of our last year's pay. And, by chance, This was my 20th year. So, March 31, 1985 I retired. At age 43. I've been a Volunteer since Oct. 4, 1958, and I'll be Volunteering for at least another 51 years. Yes, 51. I want to have 100 years service.................
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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    Harve... I don't know about 100 years... If I ain't taking it easy in the sun somewhere by the time I'm 55 (50 if I'm lucky but the youngest will still be in school ) I will need my head examined...

    My point about Old Man River was that so many of our older hands have gone in the last few years that all of us Guys around 20 years are seen as Dinosaurs... due to my joining very early I get tarred with that brush and I ain't even hit middle age yet. I am one of those who has my 20 year Long Service medal from the Queen (not in person BTW) while still being a 'boy' in my thirties (just about)
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    I dont want to hijack this thread or whatnot but ANYONE who wants to doubt what the old ones can do, look no further than Randy Couture. Granted, he isnt 50 but he is like 44 and kicking the asses of people around 20 years his junior. You go tell him he is an old man and see what happens

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