FDIC 2023 Quick Take: Brushes with death
FDNY Battalion Chief Daniel Sheridan shares the unforgettable close calls that have given him pause
INDIANAPOLIS — FDNY Battalion Chief Daniel Sheridan delivered a keynote address at FDIC 2023, sharing the unbelievable close calls in his 37-year career that have inspired his belief in the invisible hand on the fireground.
Sheridan is commander of the third battalion in the South Bronx, a member of the FDNY Incident Management Team and president of the Mutual-Aid Training Group. He is a National Instructor Level II who travels throughout the United States and Latin America lecturing and teaching firefighting essentials.
“Is the fire service just a job or do I volunteer because it is a cool thing to do, or am I a firefighter?”
Like Maverick says in the new “Top Gun,” “It’s not what I do, it’s who I am … It’s a calling, not a job.”
“It was close. We got lucky on that one.”
“I may be in command, but I am not the controller.”
To Sheridan, the connection between the divine and those in the emergency services is clear. “If you truly believe it is indeed a calling, logic would dictate he who called us would take care of us and watch over us,” he explained.
Following are top takeaways from his keynote address.
1. The harsh reality
After reading Dennis Smith’s “Report from Engine Co. 82” in high school, all Sheridan wanted to do was to be a firefighter in the South Bronx. He had an incredible opportunity to become a broker on Wall Street after college, but chose to pursue his calling.
On his last day of probie school, his chief’s parting words were to tell the new firefighters to look to their left, to their right, in front and behind, noting in the span of a 20-year career, some standing there would no longer be here.
At the time, Sheridan thought to himself, “that’s harsh.” Unfortunately, that chief was not wrong.
Fighting through his emotions, Sheridan shared the names and photos of five members of that graduating class who have been lost in the line of duty: Brian Fahey; Howard Carpluk, Jr.; John Ginley; Chris Sullivan and Pete Nelson.
We lost these five brave firefighters, Sheridan recounted. “But how many more could we have lost if it wasn’t for someone watching over us?”
2. “A mystery and a surprise”
It wasn’t long before Sheridan’s first brush with death on the job, bailing out of a window just as the fire flashed over.
The next close call gave him pause. He and a fellow firefighter and friend were looking for squatters on the second floor of a building that was, “going really good.” With the fire out on the bottom floor, they used a portable ladder to access the second floor, where they found a hose line, but no engine company. “It was so hot we couldn’t even kneel,” he said. They took over the hose line, and would have continued to attack if a tower tormentor had not fallen on the line. When they made it out, they found their was fire coming out every window. The chief had made the call to go defensive, but they had never heard the evacuation order. “If that tower tormenter hadn’t landed on that hose line, we would have stayed in there,” Sheridan said.
While lying on the sidewalk, with steam coming off his coat, that’s where he met Father Michael Judge, the beloved FDNY chaplain. Sheridan recalls quipping, “I guess you’re here for last rites.”
Sheridan shared an excerpt from the chaplain’s last homily, delivered Sept. 10, 2001, the day before he died in the attack on the Twin Towers.
“That’s the way it is. Good days. And bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job – which is a mystery. And a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig. No matter how big the call. No matter how small. You have no idea what God is calling you to. But he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.
3. Think about it
Looking back over his 37 years, Sheridan has experienced many close calls, uncanny circumstances and mysteries that have firmed his belief in the intervention of a higher power.
He shared these incidents, encouraging attendees, “think about it,”:
- A firefighter falls 75 feet from the roof of a five-story tenement into a rubble-strewn shaft, and survives
- A firefighter falls through roof of a vacant factory in a fully involved fire with machinery all around, but lands on a squatter’s bed
- A chief is vehemently opposed to entering an empty frame, and then 20 minutes later, it collapses
- While battling a fire on all three floors of a five-story vacant building, the battalion chief asks his aid to check for any critical information on the building. The aid finds a directive, “under no circumstances enter.” The chief pulls everyone just before the building collapses.
- On the advice of random engineer, a chief pulls everyone off the pile they’re working at the Twin Towers. He feels foolish, and they get back to work. Then, an unknown person approaches and encourages the chief to pull everyone again. He evacuates, and minutes later, the pile caves in.
Sheridan shared one final story in detail. It was Christmas Eve, and Sheridan was tasked with driving the acting battalion chief. A firefighter was detailed from another house to take Sheridan’s spot. As Sheridan related, the firefighter walked into the house, gazing around in amazement, in brand new gear, looking like he just stopped off at supply. The 17 truck was dispatched for a water leak. Sheridan and the chief were called to a false alarm. On their return, they encountered a woman frantically waving them down. Sheridan radioed the 17 crew, telling them to forget the water leak, “we got a fire.”
Fire was blazing out of every window in the rear of a bodega. The engine crew started stretching lines, trying to put the fire out on both sides. The fire raced up the rear of the building and the firefighter attacking in the apartment above had to bail into the bucket – whether it was there or not – as the room flashed over.
They returned to the street, where they found the detailed firefighter, standing “like a statue” with a hook and can. The crew knocked down the fire and entered the store, looking for hidden pockets. While in the rear, they heard a commotion from the front of the store. The detail firefighter was screaming, “fire! Fire!” The crew went to investigate and find a few embers in the doorway. As they were looking at each other, they heard a deafening roar as the whole rear of the building collapsed where they were just standing.
And that unknown person at the 9/11 pile? And the Christmas Eve detailed firefighter? They were never seen again.
“Look back on your own career and tell me what you think,” Sheridan closed.
'I'll never forget that call ...'
Unforgettable Calls is a place where firefighters from across the country can connect to share their stories about the calls that have stayed with them, everything from the play by play of a mayday call to the memorable moment a patient thanked them for saving their life.