Blizzard Baptizes New York Probie

During the second-biggest area snow storm in recorded history, Engine 22’s tire chains rattled down snow-blanketed Union Ave. The heavy rig sprayed a wake of slush onto powdery piles, the tips of mirrors the only clue to the vehicles buried beneath. From several blocks away, a large plume of smoke could already be seen pouring from around the corner, whipped by winds which peaked near 50 miles per hour. This was it–Probationary Firefighter Chris Tortorella’s first chance to test his skills…

Months earlier, Chris had been a successful carpenter, supervising six men as a foreman. Although committed to his dream of becoming a firefighter, he had two young children to support. It is never easy to earn a spot in the fire department, but suffering from dyslexia meant Chris had to study twice as hard as everyone else for the three entrance exams he took over ten years. And then the letter arrived from the New Rochelle (NY) Fire Department. “It was a dream come true. It was surreal–nine years and it was finally there”. But it seemed crazy to leave a stable job with a newborn son and daughter just starting preschool. “When my wife first saw how much I was going to be paid, she said, ‘I don’t think you can do this,” recalled Chris.

Luckily, he comes from a firefighter family. His relatives reassured the couple that their sacrifice would eventually pay off, and they decided to take the chance together. Chris remembered, “My wife has always been supportive. She works full time and really helped me out by taking care of the kids while I was in the academy.”

Back to the storm…

PHOTOS: Huge Snowstorm Smashes East Coast

As the corner neared, flames were revealed roaring well overhead, engulfing the front end of a car. “I saw the smoke and really just tried to rely on my training”. Guided by his experienced crew, Chris yanked the hose down from the back of the fire engine, and dragged it through a waist-high snow bank and down the sidewalk. Just as he was trained, he cracked the nozzle open and placed it under his knee so he could control the arriving water pressure. Then he placed his helmet between his knees as he put on his air mask. While this fire was straightforward, these small skills, repeated at every fire, may one day save a firefighter’s life. Once the members of Ladder 12 had pushed past and created access to the vehicle, Chris and his crew quickly advanced and extinguished the fire, protecting the cars parked closely on both sides of the tight street. While the true test of a new firefighter is his first interior building fire, any fire helps to get the jitters out. “You want to get your first fire over with,” Chris confirmed. And this fire ended with the sweetest reward for a new firefighter, a casual “nice job” from a senior firefighter. “It meant a lot.”


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