A sea of dark blue uniforms and white caps, nearly as far as the eye can see; the sound of bagpipes; the sight of grown men crying; these are the scenes that mark each tragic passing of a New York City firefighter. Once you have experienced it, it is never forgotten.
Last week, we bid farewell to 15-year FDNY veteran Michael Davidson from Engine Company 69 in the Bronx. Davidson was killed fighting a blaze that broke out on a movie set. He leaves behind a wife and four young children. He was just 37 years old.
We shouldn’t need any reminders that the job that the brave men and women of the FDNY do on a daily basis is extremely dangerous. And we shouldn’t need any reminders that each time a member of the FDNY leaves home to work a shift, they do so with the understanding that they are risking everything to protect us.
We hope we will never get any more reminders, that we’ll never see another funeral procession again. But we know that it is inevitable, that it will happen again. That’s not a prediction, it’s a fact. It’s a part of the job.
And that’s what makes a person’s decision to sign up and put on that uniform, knowing all the risks and what can happen all the more admirable and inspiring.
Residents of this community still remember the day that firefighters from across the city came to Woodhaven to honor one of our own, Firefighter Jimmy Young, who was killed along with two other firefighters 24 years ago this past week.
Just after 7:30 p.m. on March 28, 1994, heavy smoke was reported at 62 Watts Street in Manhattan. Engine Company 24/Ladder 5 on the Avenue of the Americas was dispatched and on the scene within minutes. They wasted no time and fearlessly entered the building to combat the fire.
Among the emergency personnel entering the building that night was Captain John J. Drennan, Firefighter Christopher J. Siedenburg, and Firefighter James F. Young.
They were on the second floor when a large flame from the first-floor apartment burst out of the doorway and up the stairwell, engulfing them.
The backdraft was ferocious and unforgiving. Firefighter Young was killed instantly. Firefighter Siedenburg died shortly thereafter, and Captain Drennan lived for over a month before succumbing to his injuries.
Over 10,000 firefighters came to Woodhaven, filling 87th Street, 88th Avenue and Jamaica Avenue, spilling over to many of the surrounding streets. If you were here that day and saw the funeral procession, it’s not something you have ever forgotten.
Jimmy Young was a local boy who went to St. Thomas the Apostle, played softball on the Lewis’ of Woodhaven team, and hung out with his friends in the local parks. In that regard, we all have something in common with Firefighter Young.
But that’s where the similarity ends. Jimmy Young displayed bravery in the face of extreme danger, the kind of bravery that most of us have trouble comprehending. We are conditioned to move away from danger, to protect ourselves at all costs.
Twenty-four years ago, Jimmy Young, Christopher J. Siedenburg and Captain John J. Drennan were added to the honor roll of New York City firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Michael Davidson was added last week. In between, hundreds of New York City firefighters, most of them on 9/11, sacrificed their lives in the service of saving others.
As a city, we owe everything to the men and women of the FDNY. As a community, we owe our local firefighters our gratitude for protecting us. We see you on your firetrucks as you race down Jamaica Avenue, but it doesn’t always register that this call could be different.
We shouldn’t need any reminders that there are no routine fires and that every call is a risky one and could be, potentially, fatal. But sadly, we get those reminders far too often. Our prayers are with the friends and family of Firefighter Davidson; we hope they can find peace and comfort.