Saturday, December 10, 2016

First Responder

Quincy was up front about it. No "I wanted to help people." No "I couldn't wait to get out on my own." No "I really looked up to him and wanted to be like him." Yes, all have a kernel of truth to them. After all, he was a teenager with a neighbor who was a fire captain, and the sixth of eight siblings, so any of those rationales could have been ones as to why he wanted to be a volunteer fireman. But he's nothing if not honest. His reason for starting down the path he's on? "There were girls at the fire house, and I wanted to drive like a maniac." Worlds have been built on weaker stuff.

But that was how it started. He got his advanced training, worked as an EMT and continued with his local department. For sure there was driving fast and showing off for the ladies, but it had its much more difficult side as well. He recalled how in the early hours of a Sunday in 1996 he responded to a head-on collision. He climbed into a mangled car past one lifeless body, and helped pry a still breathing one from the back. He helped get that one to a chopper, but he also died from his injuries. It took several hours to clean it all up, and Quincy started home just as the sun was coming up. Though it had been a while since he had been in church, that morning he felt the need. He pulled into one near his house, sat in a corner pew and cried. He was just 18.

He dropped out of high school in his senior year, but kept home schooling to get his diploma. He worked a succession of jobs, including professional EMT and bartender. When his girlfriend dumped him via cell phone, he spent the night drinking, then drove the next morning to the Coast Guard recruiting office and asked how fast they could sign him up. After ascertaining that he wasn't wanted by the cops, the recruiter asked for the name of the girl and completed the paperwork. Two weeks later she called, and they got back together. The next day he left for boot camp.

His first post put him in the Caribbean looking for drugs and illegal aliens, as well as doing humanitarian work. "But I did learn to drive a boat fast, and got lots of sunburns." That girl turned into his wife, and with his first kid on the way, he transferred to a station on Staten Island. When his four-year hitch was up, he left to join the NYC Fire Department, and was assigned to Ladder 42 in the South Bronx, arguably one of the busiest and most dangerous posts in the city.  

He kept his reserve status. "But let's be real, this was the CG we are talking about. How likely was it that I'd be recalled?" Likely, as it turns out. Three years later, in order to help prevent another attack like the one on the USS Cole, he was sent to the Middle East to do port security. A year later he was rotated back with a medal. Wanting to use all his skills, he was accepted as part of the FDNY Marine Division for their busy summer season. I asked him if the pressure ever gets to him. He laughed. "I have the best job in the world. Half the year I am assigned to the best ladder company in the FDNY, and half the year I get to drive a boat around New York City. So no, I don't want out."

For a guy whose day to day involves working in some of the toughest environments there are, he's relentlessly upbeat. "I don't do it for the thanks. I've established that I can get paid to do work that I enjoy that just so happens to be helping people." And when he gets tired of all that adrenaline rush, there's his other sideline: "I'm also an ordained minister, with 30+ ceremonies under my belt." I asked him what was the common thread of it all: "I just love seeing people happy."

Final tally: he loves what he does. He gets to help people. His girl is his wife. And he still gets to drive fast. As far as Quincy is concerned, that's a win-win-win-win.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to meet people. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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