Baptism by Fire: A New York Firefighter Confronts His First Test

By N.R Kleinfield

For The New York Times

IN THE HUSHED DARKNESS of a chilly night, a fire truck carrying six men rolled toward its Brooklyn firehouse. They had just finished up at a women’s shelter, where steam wisping from an iron had set off an alarm. Not much to it. There had been a few other runs for Ladder Company 105 — a gas leak, a stuck elevator — but for Jordan Sullivan, another 15-hour shift was unspooling without what he so eagerly awaited.

A fire.

In his 96 days in the field as a firefighter, a probie out of the Fire Academy — the Rock, as it’s familiarly known — it had not happened. Around the firehouse, the veterans continually swapped fire stories. That was how they both taught and regaled one another, and the stories were good ones. He could not contribute. He hadn’t had a fire.

Sometimes a probie goes on the maiden run of his career and, bam, a fire. Usually, in New York, it happens during the first few tours. Maybe it takes a week or even a month. But 96 days — nearly triple digits! That was ridiculous.

Probies take a lot of ribbing, part of the subculture of being a probationary firefighter, and it was a running joke about how Jordan Sullivan could not catch a fire. The others would say drolly, “Well, I know I’m not going to a fire tonight, Jordan’s here.”

Fires happen all the time in New York. On average, the Fire Department responds to 68 structural fires a day, most of them minor, but usually eight to 10 that qualify as serious. Fires everywhere, and yet after 96 days Firefighter Sullivan kept wondering, “When’s it my turn?”

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