My son is 15. He talks about being a fireman, and right now I would dissuade him. I’m 45, and I have eighteen years in the department—two more until retirement. I have had a couple of surgeries, on my sinuses, my throat, my whole esophageal tract. It’s all attributed to 9/11. I constantly feel like I just got out of a pool—I have that 24/7. I’m very proud of what I do. It’s just that I’m hoping my kids go away to school and don’t come back here.
Since 9/11, I don’t think the city has done anything for us. I don’t think we’re any safer or any more prepared. There’s no new equipment. But what really changed was the way other people—civilians—viewed the job. You’re up on a pedestal. I never wanted that. Still don’t. Some guys loved it. But I stopped wearing my Fire Department shirt, because if I did, everywhere I went it would be, “Hey, thank you, thank you so much!” You’re in the store—“Let me get that for you. Were you there?” Everybody wants to hear the story. But I haven’t even shared everything with my wife. That’s my best friend. I’ve seen things I could never tell her. And then they cut the funding again! You got a guy like me who’s so fucked up, and you cut funding for the mental-health program. They cut it, they restore it, they cut it. But you know, I would never use that as an excuse either. PTSD, does it exist? Sure. Fucking get over it.
As told to Robert Kolker