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Dad's strength, courage were awe-inspiring

The helmet hangs in my hall by my front door. It is black metal, with "FD" in red letters on the top. It was made by a company called Cairns and Brothers of Clifton, N.J.

You would think nothing of this helmet until you looked closely at the left-hand side of it and wondered why it is so dented. And that is one of the legacies of my family.

You see, my father was a Buffalo firefighter in the late 1950s through 1964. The helmet is his, from his days fighting fires in the City of Buffalo. I have heard stories of his firefighting days since I was a small child.

Apparently Dad liked to cook for the men at the firehouse. I can imagine him cooking up big pots of some of his favorites that we enjoyed growing up -- probably his spicy chili, pot roast, beef stew and even kielbasa and sauerkraut. I can imagine he enjoyed the camaraderie of those days, working day in and day out at the firehouse to support his young family in South Buffalo.

Nearly 43 years ago, on May 23, 1964, Dad was called in to replace someone who called in sick. The fire bell rang late that night and the crew set off for a warehouse fire. It turned out the fire was an arson. This is where the family legacy begins.

Dad and another fireman were on the company's brand-new Snorkel 1 truck when metal tore loose from the 85-foot snorkel, catapulting Dad and the other gentleman to the ground. Both were in serious shape, but thankfully lived to tell of that fateful night.

My Dad did not speak of the accident much.

What I do know is this -- I was very lucky to be born two months later with a father. It is amazing that he survived that fall. Dad was in a body cast from his waist up, and there are pictures of him holding me looking like a partial mummy, with the cast over his chest, his arm protruding out.

I now know that he broke his toes, nose and ribs; badly broke his arm; suffered internal injuries; and had to have his ear sewn back on. I know he spent many days and nights in the hospital in traction and came home right before my July birth.

I know that he was in pain for the rest of his life, 12 years, and that his fatal heart attack may have come from the stress of the weight of the body cast and the myriad other injuries he suffered.

But you know what? I never knew any of this while he was alive. I just knew my Dad was a hero who had the misfortune of fighting a fire on a faulty piece of equipment.

I also knew my Dad had the strength and the will to live to see his last child born and his other three continue to grow up. And I was fortunate to have a stay-at-home Dad, which was unheard of in the 1960s. Dad could not return to his job as a Buffalo firefighter, although he remained one for the rest of his life.

So when someone looks at that helmet and asks to hear the story about it, I am proud to say my Dad was one of the bravest of our community: a Buffalo firefighter.

Laura Seil Ruszczyk is doing research on her father's accident for a book and would love to hear from anyone with knowledge of it. Readers can contact her via e-mail at

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