September 11, 2002

The following is from an email my father sent to family members on September 30, 2001:

Our father and Grandfather, Charles A Kuffner, badge 9647, was one of those special men who entered the ranks of the Fire Department during the Depression. That is not the most unusual feature of my Dad’s service. It was the competition he faced for a Civil Service job, with its attendant security.The caliber of the candidates, research reveals, were college graduates, lawyers, accountants and even dentists and other persons with Professional degrees who also strove for the appointment.

Dad was a high school dropout who only completed 6 months at Curtis High School. He did, however, remember his Spanish class, and could recite in flawless Spanish, the story of "Henny Penny, The Sky is Falling"!

Before his appointment, he supported himself and family as a bill collector with the Richmond County Gas Company. That wasn’t the hard part; his territory was an enclave of Italian immigrants who didn’t speak English: Rosebank, Staten Island. No problem for our resourceful parent/grandparent, he learned to count and make change in Italian!

When he was appointed in 1939 he was especially proud of the uniform and the position he assumed. For the next 22 years, he shared a brotherhood within his firehouse, especially with his brother-in-law, Paul Crifasi, who did him the honor of marrying his only sister Loretta in 1947. According to Aunt Loretta, Dad unsuccessfully tried to play match maker. It wasn't until another tragedy - Uncle Paul's brother's wife died in childbirth - that he and Aunt Loretta finally met, and that was when she took Gram to watch the fireman respond to an alarm on Richmond Terrace near Bement Avenue in 1946.

At the firehouse, Engine 157, Truck 80 Engine, Uncle Wille Schwarz was the resident barber and all us kids had their hair cuts; Archer Frey who was the accountant; Abe Cohen, the tinker, almost put Dad out of his second job as a wallpaper hanger. It seemed that Dad had perfected the use of old fire extinguisher to spray walls to loosen up old paper so it could be removed easier that sponging it down. The extinguisher developed a pinprick leak. Abe volunteered to weld it closed. He gave up after the original hole was enlarged to about a half-dollar, and earned a new name, "The Brazier". There was also “Big” John Lamendolla; Lt. Tom Kane, famous for his compliments to his men after a successful operation, “Men, I seen what youse done, and youse done good”! and Uncle John Hall, who was the firehouse photographer, his photos record our family history. Later on we met "Sgt" Art Foley, the Marine from Iwo Jima; Bob Podilack; Vince Furia, who counseled Dad in the use of "Four inches a brush"; so many wonderful men, so many stories. One more story must be told. I met a retired fireman at a cocktail party and when he learned who I was, he told me about a saloon fire in Port Richmond. It seems that the men were taking out burned and scorched bottles of liquor and Dad blocked the door, telling them to replace the bottles since it was the wrong thing to do to a small business owner who just got put out of business. A Man's man was his closing comment.

These memories are tempered with great sadness when I read the list on missing fireman; Lt. John Fisher, Rescue 5 painted 366 Oakland Ave in 1999 before we sold it; Steve Siller, Engine # 201 who moved onto Oakland Avenue with his wife and 5 kids about 4 houses down the street; Kevin Hannafin, whose parents John and Lillian were clients of mine, as he was when he was 16; Lenny from over Mastro Barber shop, a retired firefighter whose son followed in his foot steps, and died at the WTC; My court reporter's son; after a while I stopped reading the list of the missing, I didn't want to know any more names.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 11, 2002 to National news