Firefighter Chic

Blue-Collar Reality and the Folk Hero Archetype

It's delicate, talking about salaries with the grief still raw and the memorials continuing. One firefighter, a white thirtysomething from Engine 37 in Harlem, said his feeling was so unpopular he didn't want his name used. "I don't want a raise because 300 firemen died." In other words, to him it's blood money.

How a grateful city suddenly in economic crisis will ultimately value—or even discuss—a new contract is a question for the next mayor. Firefighters like Bob Barrett, 60, a 27-year veteran from Soho's Ladder 20, who plans to vote against the current contract terms,voiced conflicting emotions. "This isn't a matter of just money," he said at a Greenwich Village fundraiser in the Fiddlesticks tavern. "It's a matter of principle. We want a certain value placed on us. It took 103 floors to fall on our head for people to say, 'Wow, these guys are heroes.' I always knew that." His company at 253 Lafayette Street lost seven men.

"The only good thing to come of this is people walking by and saying, 'I was always afraid to talk to you.' I say, 'Why?' Then they thank me. I want to thank them back, because I don't feel I'm the only one suffering. The whole neighborhood is suffering with us."

And maybe the men at Engine Company 74 are pouring milk from that new coffee creamer.

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