My Second Life, Transformed by Fire
By: Andrew J. Maloney III
- Andrew “Duke” Maloney saw his family home destroyed by fire and the caring efforts of the brave firefighters who fought to save the house, and the treasured belongings within.
- That event inspired him to help others and become a firefighter, balancing those duties with his already strenuous schedule as an attorney.
- After the September 11th terrorist attacks, he traveled to Ground Zero as a firefighter and rescue worker where he felt transformed by the destruction he witnessed.
- Despite the risks, even in the wake of the nation’s most horrifying tragedy, being a firefighter — and helping others — is rewarding and the right thing to do.
(Reprinted from the AAJ Trial Magazine)
I found my other calling by accident. In 1999, my parents’ house (the one I spent 10 years living in) burned to the ground in a fire. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, but I will never forget the flames destroying the house and nearly everything inside it.
I lived about 15 minutes away and was roused out of bed by the local police department. By the time I got to the house, my mother was taking comfort at a neighbor’s home, and my father and sister were being treated at a hospital for minor smoke inhalation and burns.
I tried to enter the still-burning house to pull memorabilia out but was stopped by the fire chief while some 20 or 30 firefighters battled the blaze. Not being able to act was frustrating. But much to my surprise, once the firefighters realized they were going to lose the house, they assigned part of their crew to bring pictures, heirlooms, a grandfather clock, and other mementos out of the house and lay them on the front lawn so they could be salvaged. I had never seen this before.
The firefighters had risked their own safety to fight a fire, ensuring that the house was clear of victims. But with the fire still out of control, they began saving memories for my family. Most of them were local volunteer firefighters who lived in the community but did not know my family. Some were career firefighters. All of them cared.
It was not long after the fire that I vowed I would help others as I had been helped. I joined my local fire department as a volunteer. Heck, I always wanted to ride on the big red fire trucks with sirens and lights anyway.
But I soon learned that it would not be all fun and games. I had lots of training to do, tests — including a physical — to take, and several months of classroom and practical lessons to complete before I could become a licensed firefighter. These would be followed by weekly training exercises and, of course, real emergencies. How would I find the time? I work as a lawyer by day — and too often at night — and commute between my home in the suburbs and my office in New York City. I am married with three young children. How could I be a firefighter too?
This time crunch would be a constant problem, but I learned it was also a surmountable one. My fire department has a combination crew of career and volunteer firefighters. Each of the town’s seven firehouses has two career firefighters who stay there 24/7; they are supported by 20 or more volunteers who have received the same training, perform the same tasks, and respond to a one-way radio pager.
I was welcomed because the more volunteers they have, the more the work can be spread around. Therefore, the company does not have to rely on any one member — like me — who, because of work and family commitments, cannot serve as often as others who do not have these obligations.
There were unanticipated benefits. I was getting to know people in the new town that we had moved to only two years earlier. Within a few months with the fire department, I had made friends with local garage mechanics, truck drivers, police officers, the town attorney, and even other lawyers who were in my fire company.
Despite my long work hours and commuting, my family has benefited as well. The firehouse has become a place to enjoy social activities — like rib cook-off contests, parades, Easter egg hunts, and visits from Santa Claus (guess who plays Santa?). And my children have had a chance to see firsthand how important public service is.
But nothing tops riding through town on that big red truck with sirens and lights blasting and rolling up to a fire, car accident, or some other emergency. The adrenaline pumps like it used to when I played competitive sports, like it still does when a jury is bringing in a verdict — you never know what is going to happen.
When I see the faces of civilians as I run toward them wearing firefighting gear and a breathing apparatus and carrying an ax, halogen tool, or chainsaw — looking like I am from outer space — they seem in awe, scared, and thankful that I am there. I don’t ask myself, “What am I doing here? I’m just a lawyer who pushes paper, a dad who swims with the kids at the beach, a husband who has a never-ending list of ‘honey do’ tasks.”
At that moment, I am somehow transformed into someone else because I know those people are injured, trapped, frightened, or disoriented — and they are counting on me. There is no time to show hesitation or fear. Sometimes, only my fellow firefighters and I are standing between life and death for them. There is no greater feeling than making a rescue, getting someone safely into an ambulance, and checking later to find out whether they are OK.
Given our proximity to Manhattan, I had the task, indeed the moral obligation, to travel with some of my fellow firefighters to Ground Zero days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The same city I had left as a lawyer, I returned to as a firefighter and rescue worker.
The death and destruction I witnessed there were beyond description. Once again, I felt transformed as I stood on that smoking pile of rubble. I knew I had done the right thing by joining the fire department.
It is far too easy to do just enough to get by at your job, at home, or in life in general. But each of us has such greater potential, if we only decide we can do something to help others. If we stay determined to help those in need, we help ourselves.