Monday, 20 February 2017
September / October 2011
Company Man
Bookmark and Share
Print E-mail

The second-largest municipal fire department in the world (behind Tokyo's), the FDNY protects more than eight million residents in a 320-square-mile area and responds to more working fires annually than the departments of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia combined. The two companies that make up the Jolly Rogers are among the busiest in the city, which is why some firefighters spend their careers trying to get assigned to a place like the unassuming firehouse in Flatbush. "They have a reputation for being good at what they do. I wanted to be a part of that," says Ganci. "That's why I studied so hard in Probie School."

The Jolly Rogers: Having graduated first in his class at the academy, Ganci had his pick of firehouses.

Situated on twenty-seven acres on Randall Island in the East River, the Fire Academy is essentially basic training for probationary firemen. Informally known as The Rock, it includes eleven buildings, a 200,000-gallon water tank, train cars to simulate subway fires, and a driving course that includes controllable traffic lights and electric pop-up obstacles. Ganci spent fourteen weeks in Probie School, memorizing thousands of pages of information about fire science, equipment, and techniques, while also passing a series of physical tests that involved everything from advancing a hose line to crawling through tunnels.

Based solely on performance at the academy, Ganci was the class valedictorian. After receiving a standing ovation as he walked across the stage at Brooklyn College, he told his fellow probies, "My father always ended the graduation speech with the same line: By taking this job, you will never, ever be rich, but you will always be happy. And when someone asks you what you do for a living, you can look him in the eyes with pride and say that you are a New York City firefighter." Five others among Ganci's 240 classmates from the summer of 2005 had lost family members on 9/11.

The top-ranked probie gets his choice of what fire company he would like to join. "I wanted to be valedictorian, so nobody could tell me I got here because I knew somebody," he says. "I earned my spot." But he was well aware of the footsteps he was following. Pete Ganci Jr. was a legend. The post office on Main Street in Farmingdale, New York, where his kids attended high school, is named for him. A U.S. military installation in Kyrgyz-stan is unofficially named Ganci Air Base, and the recreation center there is known as Pete's Place. In his 2006 interview with Brian Williams, Ganci said of his father, "He turned back and went right into the breach. He went right back, knowingly, and I look at it and say, 'Do I have that kind of mettle?' "

'He turned back and went right into the breach,' Ganci says of his father. 'He went right back, knowingly, and I look at it and say, "Do I have that kind of mettle?" 'Apparently so. On July 1, 2008, Ladder 157 was called to an apartment fire in which eleven people were trapped. Ganci and two other members of the forcible entry team raced to the second floor and found a locked door. Fire and smoke were venting through the key hole. They broke down the door and found the entire apartment ablaze. Ganci expended a fire extinguisher, helped a colleague drag an unconscious seven-year-old into the hallway, returned to a rear bedroom, found an eight-year-old lying under a bunk bed, crawled with him back toward the apartment entrance, then returned once more to assist in the removal of a fourteen-year-old victim. Only the eight-year-old survived. His actions, "in keeping with the highest traditions of the New York City Fire Department," earned him a medal; the award came with a $400 check, which he gave to the victims' family. "If I never go to another one like that again, that's fine with me," he says. "That fire could have killed all of us. But when you hear children trapped, you throw it into an extra gear."

Ganci—who lives in Massapequa Park, a few minutes away from his childhood home, with his wife, four-year-old son, and two-year-old daughter—has a reputation for being on the job all the time. "The guys joke that I do twenty-four-hour shifts at home and live in the firehouse," he says. But he insists he does-n't want to miss out on his children's formative years the way his workaholic father did, and he certainly doesn't aspire to the same fate. He wants to come home to his family.

Even now, when he smells smoke from a fierce fire, the kind of scent that gets in your hair and in your pores, his thoughts often turn to those moments a generation earlier when his father would return home from a grueling shift. Covered in soot and looking like he hadn't slept in weeks, Pete would walk in the front door and embrace his son. "It was a good job, Chris," he would say. "I got to play."

Brad Herzog '90 is a CAM contributing editor.

Comments (9)Add Comment
1995 Johnson School
written by Steve Hubbard, August 31, 2011
What a fantastic story to read. Anyone who has children would love to have their kids think of them with the same respect and admiration that Chris thinks of his father Pete.

I almost felt that I was reading a script out of Hollywood with Chris so determined to finish first in his class. Chris knows his father would be so proud of him. Congratulations!
written by Meredith Ryan-Reid, August 31, 2011
Amazing story. Thank you for sharing. We are all honored to share any association with Chris Ganci.
Ph. D 1960
written by H. C. Torng, August 31, 2011
Hi, I am very moved by the story on Mr. Ganci. I just want to point out that in 2001 I, as the inventor of the patent in suit, suggested at the filing of Cornell v HP that 12.5% of the net proceeds, if any, be used to establish a scholarship at Cornell for the children of NYC first responders, who perished in 911. This was agreed to by all concerned.

Accordingly, upon the settlement of the suit in 2010, a $5 million Torng-Lee Scholarship has been established at Cornell. The first recipients should be arriving on campus at this very moment.

With admiration and regard,

HC Torng
Professor Emeritus, Electrical and Computer Engineering

written by Hal Baum, September 01, 2011
A superb article, and a great encapsulation of the qualities that comprise firefighters.
written by Craig R. Perlow, September 08, 2011
As someone who was born in Manhattan, grew up on Long Island, and later lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side for over 16 years, this riveting and superbly-written article reminds me of why I'm not only proud to be a New Yorker, but why I'm even prouder of our city's FDNY and first responders like Chris Ganci and his Dad, Pete. You can be sure that I'll be thinking about both of them this coming Sunday when the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 is commemorated in NYC and throughout the United States. May God bless them and all of our other heroes who help keep us safe every day.
written by Tom Barron, September 11, 2011
Family, Duty and Honor. Noble themes on a tough day.
written by Karen Lauterwasser, September 20, 2011
Thank you for sharing an amazing story. I spent 6 years working in emergency medical services, and have a tiny bit of understanding of what it is like to work with people that you trust and who trust you to do the right thing. I hope Chris has a long and rewarding career.
Law School, 2010
written by Marina Gruber, October 13, 2011
This was such an amazing story. I just read it now...and it really moved me. Thank you for sharing this man's story, and also showing that we can live the lives we want to and make changes to our pathes!
Graduate School 1989
written by Jeffrey Hirsch, October 14, 2011
Great story! Thanks for publishing this classy article and well done! I was a Federal employee assigned to FEMA's Urban Search & Rescue Teams at ground zero and worked there for several months. I too changed careers after that event by rejoining the US Navy - couldn't be happier!

Write comment