Poems in Books on Firefighting? You got a problem with that?!
In 2019 I was contacted by retired FDNY Chief Vincent Dunn, a friend since the early 1980s when I researched arson in the Bronx. Chief Dunn had seen a poem I posted on social media and discussed with me his idea for including photographs and poems inspired by the photographs in his soon-to-be reissued technical books on firefighting. I was intrigued and from the first 22 extraordinary photographs he sent me, fully engaged in bringing the project to life.
The photographs—of firefighters on the job, in the firehouse kitchen, in moments of reflection and pain; of people rescued from fires, of street scenes and of onlookers—were not only powerful images, but keys that unlocked the memories that became my poems. The people in the photographs spoke in the voices of New York firefighters, dispatchers, and other civilians like me who worked for FDNY in the 1980s. What they said and how they spoke came back to me, along with the heady feeling of being part of something bigger than myself.
From 2020 to 2022, during a worldwide pandemic, I found peace and satisfaction in Chief Dunn’s visionary project. In the photographs the chief chose I found the words for over 100 poems—many of them written in the voices of people I knew in the past, from a time in my life, it turns out, I have never forgotten.
Writing the poems connected me with that treasured part of my life. My present-day concerns dissolved in the pleasure of finding myself once again among heroes.
I am very proud of the poems. They exist because of the creative vision of Chief Dunn, the skill and vision of the photographers, especially two New Yorkers Matt Daly and Steve Spak, whose images, chosen by Chief Dunn, sparked my indelible, unquenchable memories.