A St. Gabriel School’s kindergarten class was enjoying a physical education period outside when two fire trucks quietly pulled into the school’s parking lot.
The mostly 5-year-olds pressed their faces against the fence, hoping to get a closer look at both the trucks and the burly men inside it.
But these firefighters from Ladder 52 were not there to rescue people from flames. Instead, it was time for a bit of fun, showing their appreciation to the Bedrock Preschool after those toddlers raised more than $200 for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows and Children’s Fund.
“They did a fundraiser bake sale and originally wanted to give it to the fire house,” Capt. Robert Keating said. “But instead of taking the money, we reached out to the Widows and Children’s Fund. We want to show our appreciation that the school went out of their way to raise this money.”
The Widows and Children’s Fund supports its namesake — widows and children of firefighters who died in the line of duty.
Losing a firefighter is tragic not just for their family, but for the city and the department he or she called home. Funerals are typically quite large, attended by counterparts from all over the city and region.
Sometimes firehouses fundraise for the families of fallen firefighters, and make an effort to keep in contact with the family they leave behind.
The kindergarteners from the West 235th Street school joined their neighbors from Bedrock, who sometimes use the playground at the school. The children sat with their legs folded at the side of the parked fire trucks, ready to move in case an emergency suddenly pulled the firefighters through the open front gate.
The Bedrock preschoolers raised more than $200 at their annual bake sale. Every year, the youngsters donate proceeds to an organization that helps children, like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Locks of Love — an organization that provides hairpieces to children undergoing cancer treatment or suffering from other medical issues that result in hair loss.
The children also presented the firefighters with art and cards that expressed their love and appreciation for them. In return, Keating and his crew shared some fire safety knowledge with the toddlers. Brett Munsey went over what to do when trapped in a fire.
“Don’t hide,” the firefighter said. “Let us know where you’re at.
“Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t play with matches or fire. But if you ever get fire on yourself, stop, drop and roll.”
Some things within the fire department never change, like fire safety rules. However after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the intensity of firefighter training jumped primarily to prepare for such attacks, Keating said. When he joined 19 years ago, it was a six-week training course. Today, the firefighter training program is 18 weeks.
Before putting out fires, Keating spent 10 years putting away criminals as a city police officer. Now, as a firefighter, Keating still works out to keep up with the daily labor of his job. A fireman’s suit alone can weigh between 45 and 75 pounds.
Jeff Espreo called the truck a big toolbox, showing the children tools like axes and a water tank. Equipment like that is usually the only thing standing between life and death for a firefighter and those in need of saving.
Keating shared how important these funds are through the story of fallen firefighter Michael Davidson of Harlem’s Engine 69, who Keating played softball against a few years before.
Davidson, who left behind a wife and four children all between the ages of one and seven, was responding to a five-alarm fire at a Harlem apartment building on March 22.
His outfit was one of the first to arrive, and Davidson’s job was to operate the fire hose nozzle, according to The New York Times. He got separated from the rest of his team, and when he was found later, he was unconscious and critically injured.
Davidson died later in a Harlem hospital.
“This is an acknowledgement and thank you to the Bedrock Preschool,” Keating said. “It’s important to remember those that fight for the city of New York.”