The New Yorker “Urban Legend”

The New Yorker


garrity life lite fireman

     The New Yorker style helmet with a Garrity light held on by a rubber strap; that was all I wanted as a young junior firefighter. I cut out the Garrity light advertisement from Firehouse Magazine, and requested both the New Yorker and Garrity light for my next birthday. I wanted that helmet, the light, and everything that I viewed came with that advertisement. That image was as COOL to me, as the Malboro Man was to many.  I so badly wanted to get out of my Metro and into a “Leather New Yorker” style helmet. I didn’t get a New Yorker the following birthday, but I did get a flashlight to mount on my helmet. I then ordered a full box of Garrity lights direct from Garrity; a full box of 50 lights. I then had my Dad get me a large black inner tube to cut up as helmet straps, and  I started pushing helmet lights as a junior firefighter.

Shortly after this, an upstate New York firefighter had relocated, and joined the next FD over from mine. I first met him on a call, and he was in full gear with a box light held on by a rope sling. I thought, he’s from New York, wears a leather helmet, and has a hand lantern held on with a rope sling, he must be an URBAN Firefighter.  I immediately requested a new hand light from my Dad.  He picked me up a nice rechargeable hand light, and I built a rope sling. I now had a Garrity helmet light, a hands free lantern, and had acquired a plastic version of the New Yorker. I was on my way to being just like an FDNY FIREFIGHTER. I believed in wearing full bunker gear on all calls, carrying a box light, and always having a tool in my hand. I was all about this and I had yet to see my 18th birthday. I just knew that New York firefighters wore their gear, had hands free lights, and always seemed to have a tool in their hand. I wanted to be an FDNY FIREFIGHTER.

photo (2)

Suburban Tools of the 80s and 90s

This was in the late 80s and early 90s. I started reading Firehouse and Fire Engineering Magazine cover to cover, always reading the URBAN authors first. I officially got issued my first set of gear on May 21, 1988. It consisted of pull up boots, a long coat, and a TURTLE SHELL style helmet. I was so excited on this day, and really had no clue how lucky I was to be subjected to the Fire Service. I started reading the back page of Fire Engineering called  “Random Thoughts”, and this became the highest priority on my monthly reading list. How LUCKY I was for Tom Brennan to have started this monthly column only months before I started legally wearing gear and legally operating on the fireground. Each month I read and

re-read Random Thoughts. I would read about carrying a rope, and then immediately drive up to ACE Hardware and purchase a personal rope.  I would read about carrying wire cutters, a personal radio,  having a good search light, a personal alert sounding device, and many other excellent tips before 1990. Tom Brennan, an URBAN Firefighter was teaching me, a young junior firefighter from a small SUBURBAN/RURAL community.

I would then share what I had learned with others in the firehouse. It was at a very young age that reality set in, and I learned another valuable lesson.  Not all firefighters share the same passion, enthusiasm, and love for the job as others.  I also learned that many grown men have serious insecurities about this job and themselves. They would say, “This isn’t NEW YORK,  and we are NOT the BIG CITY”. I just couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to read and learn from somebody that had been to so many FIRES.  This would get me a little frustrated, but I continued to read Random Thoughts and implement everything I could.

I started reading Chief  Vincent Dunn’s articles and books, and then the book Firefighting  Principles and Practices by William E. Clark made it into my hands. Chief Clark was appointed to the FDNY in 1937 and served for 20 years. He then moved on to Prince Georges County Fire Services to assist in the regionalization of fire protection. Chief Clark did not stop there, he then went on to become the Bureau Chief of the Florida State Fire College.  There are so many leaders like Chief Clark, Chief Halligan, Chief Dunn, Chief Downey, Chief Norman, Lt. Andy Fredericks, and so many other FDNY Firefighters that have highly and positively impacted the American Fire Service. I sometimes wonder where we as a fire service would be without these great leaders and visionaries.

The FDNY and other Large URBAN Fire Departments have made a huge impact on the SUBURBAN Fire Service. The experience they receive from a high volume of fire activity has given them the ability to fine tune techniques and tactics. If you do some research, you will see where these authors were from back in the late 80s and early 90s.  I look back and realize that the URBAN Firefighter and the FDNY  in general has made a huge impact on my career, and I have learned so much from their instruction and experiences. I try and deploy URBAN Tactics in the SUBURBAN/COUNTY setting. Yes, I said URBAN Tactics. When forcing the back of a stripmall, I use the Forcible Entry techniques taught to me by URBAN Firefighters  Mike Lombardo and  Bob Morris. When operating the nozzle, I use the nozzle position techniques taught to me by Tim Klett and Andy Fredericks. I could go on, but hopefully you see my point.

I believe URBAN Tactics are many times necessary in the SUBURBAN/COUNTY setting.

The fire does not care what your staffing is or is not. Stretching a line, forcing a door, venting a roof, searching a house, throwing ladders, and every other tactic or skill performed on the fire ground does not always require URBAN staffing. It seems that recently, many want to discard what the URBAN FIREFIGHTER has to offer us as SUBURBAN/COUNTY Firefighters. I couldn’t imagine operating at a JOB without the knowledge and training given to me by highly EXPERIENCED URBAN FIREFIGHTERS. I believe that ALL firefighters have something to offer, but we cannot discount an individual’s experiences on the fire ground. Tests, experiments, and training are great, but nothing replaces true combat experiences in the field under stressful circumstances. The URBAN Firefighter has been conducting ongoing tests through trial and error for decades….on the FIREGROUND.

So, before you dismiss the URBAN Firefighter and what they have to offer as LEGEND, remember what they have done for us in the SURBURBAN/COUNTY Fire Service. Where would we be without what they have given us as a COLLECTIVE FIRE SERVICE over the last 40 plus years.  I would like to thank all the URBAN FIREFIGHTERS who have personally impacted my career and taught me so much. I deploy your URBAN tactics on the SUBURBAN fireground regularly. Without URBAN professionals like Mike Hayes, Tim Klett, Bob Pressler, Jim McCormack, Ray McCormack, Mike Ciampo, Andy Fredericks, Mike Lombardo, Bill Gustin, Bob Morris, and so many more, myself and many others would probably still be deploying the SUBURBAN tactics of the 80s on today’s fireground.  A fireground that now

more than ever, requires the knowledge and precision of an URBAN LEGEND.


County/Suburban Firefighter of Today.

Remember, much of what is  taught by the fire service LEADERS of TODAY is derived from the LEGENDS of YESTERDAY.  So why do all these “Random Thoughts” matter to the SUBURBAN firefighter today.  It doesn’t matter whether you operate on the URBAN or SUBURBAN fireground, many of these tips and tactics can be applied equally.  The helmet mounted light is always illuminating where your eyes are looking.  It is hands free, and allows you to look up while pulling ceiling, and does not require you to hold your light vertically. If you don’t need it, just turn it off, but when you do need it, is always there, shining in the right direction.  The radio sling carrying your radio makes simple sense, as it holds and protects your radio under your coat, and allows the lapel mic to be hands free.  URBAN firefighters were doing this decades ago, yet the debate still rages on today.  The lantern on the sling was a no brainer to me the first time I saw it, as it keeps your hands free to carry not one, but at least two tools.  Why show up to go to work without having the proper tools in your hands?  So many of these ideas I tried to share with others many years ago, but met serious resistance as a young, inexperienced URBAN wannabe.

Many in today’s fire service jump at the latest trends and techniques endorsed by manufacturers without so much as a second thought. Yet, try to replace the hooligan tool with its nearly useless straight adz, and a fork more fit for a door chock than forcing a door, with a Pro-Bar halligan, and the arguments commence.  “You only want that because they that’s what they use in FDNY”.  The IFSTA manual told us that when we encountered a steel door in a steel frame, we should find an alternative entry point.  It’s a good thing that as a SUBURBAN firefighter, I went to a forcible entry class taught by an URBAN firefighter, and learned that with the proper tools and techniques, entry was achievable. Another tool, the NY roof hook provides more uses on todays fireground than the traditional fiberglass pike pole that is specified as standard equipment on many of today’s apparatus. The 8 lb flat head axe will outperform the 6 lb axe day and night, and as we know is quite versatile.  Carrying a personal rope is worth more than its weight in gold.  Carrying the “can” (2.5 gallon water extinguisher) can be extremely helpful in trained hands, as SUBURBAN staffed companies work to stretch an attack line.  Converted channel locks  and a multi tip screwdriver in your pocket are  other great tools, again many ideas brought to us by our URBAN fire service brothers.  Give ANY trained and motivated firefighter a six foot NY roof hook, a pro-bar halligan, the “can”, and watch out.  So from the URBAN to the SUBURBAN fireground, always remember it is the QUALITY not the QUANTITY that matters on your FIREGROUND.

Curt Isakson

18 thoughts on “The New Yorker “Urban Legend”

  1. Very nice article Curt, I enjoyed reading it because what you wrote is true and you put it in the right context. Solid work.

    • It’s called “inflection”. Sadly, many people confuse it with being angry or sarcastic when writing.

  2. Great article brother. As a firemen in the bronx I sometimes forget how blessed I am to get the experience I get every tour. It’s great to hear guys like you who are super into the job and never stop learning. That’s what this job is all about. Sharing your knowledge and learning every day. Keep it up. You are a huge asset to your brothers and your dept.

  3. Funny thing is many of these urban legends started their careers like many of us as a vollie. And many of them return to their vollie company on call off shift in their communities or teach at the local college. Why dismiss such a productive member of the family. Sounds more like politics to me….. then something wrong with their message.

  4. Right on the money. Your exact experience parallels the experience of many of us. Right down to the “we aren’t the FDNY” comments. Still fighting that same fight now and then, 30 years later.

    I always say, a good idea is a good idea, no mater if it came from FDNY or Skunk Holler FD.

    And I always try to share what I have learned from those urban FFs with the next generations of FFs. Pay it forward.

    As soon as Fire Engineering came out with that book of Random Thoughts collection, I bought it so all the guys could benefit from those great articles.


  5. I wish I could put this article in the hands of most of the staff at the college I teach at (Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills Michigan). There is so much anti Detroit/Urban sentiment there that it amazes me. Guys from urban departs, like me, feel very lucky to be in a situation where I get opportunities to learn and try new things all the time… and I cant wait to share my experiences with those that happen to work in areas that simply don’t have an arson problem. But too often I`m met with pre-emptive jealousy and “Quick to discredit” type reactions from fellow instructors and so called leaders in the teaching world. Its unfortunate when poorly written IFSTA manuals are deemed the bible and any deviation from that is looked on with disdain. Keep up the GREAT work CURT!

  6. First off, well written Curt. I’m glad you didn’t tell them we grew up watching Emergency that would show our age! All kidding aside, I don’t even belong on the list above. I was mentored like yourself by Tom Brennan (aka Tommy Truck) and his Random Thoughts, my father who spent countless hours teaching me the basics and all the LEGENDS you mention in the article. In addition, I rode at Rescue 2 every year from when I was 14yrs old, those men included me on drill and taught me what it was to be a firefighter. I was in awe and strive to be like all the men mentioned above-MENTORS, guys who could put into words what it was like on the fire floor or at an emergency and teach us the “Whys” and the “Hows” while also being able to show us in “Hands-On” training. Like many of you reading this I was just a small town volunteer with the ambition of being a big city fireman, who wore the leather helmet, yearning to pull ceiling, cut roofs, knock down a vacant building fire from the tower ladder bucket and have snots dripping down my face after a good job and walk out of it with my head held high with my brothers by my side.
    As time passed on, I realized it was my time to mentor and teach the younger guys about what I had experienced on the job and share what those LEGENDS showed and taught me. I think everyone reading this article better realize that’s part of what makes this profession better and individual firefighters more competent! Open your ears and listen to the LEGENDS, read their words with your eyes, watch experienced instructors teach you the tactics and tips and get your hands on the tools and strive to be the best firefighter you can be, because in an instant no matter if your Urban or Suburban this job can bite you in the butt, so be prepared!
    Thank you Curt for letting me thank those mentioned above who shaped my career, who gave me the passion to be a firefighter and pass the information along.
    Those are just some of my:
    Random Thoughts………On Fire


  7. Wow, I thought you were talking about me there for a second. My little dept. only runs about forty calls a year, yes I said a year. But like you I read All I can because as you said a fire doesn’t care about your staffing or if your paid , or the number of runs you have in a year. It just wants to kill you. The more we are prepared the better we can fight. I know I get looks at my dept. because I have a webbing loop in my pocket and various hand tools in another, but they are there because I read about having need of them from a firefighter in Milwaukee,Dale Pekel, and I wont have to run back to the truck when I need one of them. Excellent article , I will pass it on and hopefully more people will understand us. And by the way , FORGET THE GRAMMAR Nazis.

  8. I think that is among the so much vital information for me.
    And i am glad studying your article. But wanna observation on some common issues, The
    web site taste is great, the articles is in reality nice
    : D. Excellent activity, cheers

  9. After the initial Instagram picture quickly went viral on Twitter, another eager fan snapped a selfie with West aand Kardashian within the background.

  10. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve
    found something which helped me. Appreciate it!

  11. So, even if there are financial responsibilities
    that one must keep, they can continue to work and study simultaneously.
    The way you arrange it on the wall is key to achieving the complete effect.
    Sense of Style: Interior designer should have a great sense of style
    so as to create design that is pleasing to the senses.

  12. Excellent article, it amazes me how people get in the mentation. “That won’t work here”. Something can always be learned and or relearned ( just in case you forgot). My thought was why wouldn’t you analyze what busy fire departments do? They see more fire in one month than most people see in their career. No need to reinvent the wheel, at the same time re evaluate your operations and tweak the accordingly.
    Nice job and Thank you,

    SR Lee

Comments are closed.