Saturday, February 24, 2007

John Goss, FDNY 1962 - 1994, firefighter and artist


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This was a painting I commissioned from John Goss, a firefighter who worked in Engine 35 in East Harlem (3rd Avenue & 125th Street) for over thirty years, all of them on "the backstep." I was fortunate to have worked with John from May of 1986 to April of 1987. There wasn't a better man to learn the job from.
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John wasn't only a firefighter's firefighter, but a great artist, a kind and exceedingly humble man and one of the many FDNY firefighters I've been honored to have worked with over the years.
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The above painting tracks my father's career from firefighter in Engine Company 201 (Brooklyn - 1953 - 1960), to Lieutenant in Engine 7 and Ladder 6 (Lower Manhattan - 1960 - 1965), to Captain of Ladder-107 (East New York/Brownsville, Brooklyn - 1965 - 1970), L-107, whose bucket is at the window, was a single Truck Company back then, to Battalion Chief in the Safety Division and then the 44th Battalion, Brownsville, Brooklyn (1970 - 1978), to Deputy Chief in the 4th Division (Harlem) to the 5th Division (Harlem), to DAC in Staten Island and then Manhattan (1978 - 1990).
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In the above picture, John's likeness is that 4th Division Chief with his arm around that 5th Division Chief which is his rendition of my Dad's likeness. John said my Dad reminded him of Jimmy Cagney. I thought that was funny, considering my Dad was also a very quiet, humble man.
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Both my Dad and John Goss died of cancer the same year, 1997. John died on the 11th anniversary of my appointment date, March 15th. Both men went from full-time firefighters to full-time cancer patients within a year of leaving the FDNY.
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I think of them both every day.

4 comments:

jeremayakovka said...

Oh man, I'm sorry for your loss. I remember you writing about your father previously.

JMK said...

I had forty-two good years with him jeremayakovka.

Sure, I wish it were more, but I enjoyed them all, especially the last ten years of his life immensely.

I remember once when I was in College, I visited a firehouse he worked in. The guys there were all great and all, but I could sense, despite their warmth, that I didn't belong there. I wasn't one of them...and a deep feeling of envy washed over me, because I could tell that every one of those guys knew my Dad in a way that even I never would. I knew him as my Dad, they knew him as a firefighter. They knew him in a way you don't get to know someone until you've gone to fires and other bad situations with.

I've seen the same envy on the faces of other guy's kids who've vistied firehouses where I've worked. It's an easy thing to sense, even a pretty young child can sense it. You can see it in the easy, familiar exchanges...you can feel the palpable bond between those guys, and even as a kid, you can tell it's a bond you won't have...not the same one, anyway, with your Dad.

I can still hear his voice sometimes, when I think of him.

jeremayakovka said...

I live down the street from a firehouse. One morning two ladders were parked on opposite sides of the street, extended into the air reaching toward each other. "Huh?" I asked "It's for a funeral for one of our guys." "Ah. Got it." On 9/11's they set up on the sidewalk dozens of paper bags with sand and candles.

I never gave a second thought to the days in the life until after our national disaster.

JMK said...

Yes, the FDNY Line-of-duty Funerals are powerful.

The casket rides on a special Funeral-detail Engine apparatus and the two Ladders you mention usually hold up that Company's banner (each firehouse usually has its own patch or logo) and many have monikers like Harlem's Engine-58 & Ladder-26 ("The Fire Factory") or St Albans' Engine-317 & Ladder-165 ("The Sleepless Knights") or Harlem's Engine-69 & Ladder-28 ("The Harlem Hilton").

The entire Department (every firehouse) does a prayer service and a memorial every September 11th, this past September was the fifth 9/11 memorial.

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