By Deborah Brancic
On that eventful day in Boston, almost three months ago, many lives were affected. Emergency personnel were deployed to the scene of the Boston Marathon in droves — ambulance crews, doctors, police, and firefighters. One of Longwood’s newest firefighters, though not dispatched to the main site, played a part in stabilizing the situation. While his role in the event itself was ordinary, his job, to the many people he has helped, is extraordinary.
“Every call that comes through here, we go,” said Brian Casey, 30, who is stationed at the Longwood firehouse on Huntington Ave. Although fairly new at the station, he already has a sense of the daily rhythm.
“We are one of the busiest houses in the city. We’ve got the name Huntington Ave Express, cause we’re always in and out,” he said. Longwood is a busy neighborhood not only because it is host to a lot of traffic, but also due to the amount of commercial space built in such a small area. “We’ve got the buses, we’ve got the MBTA, we’ve got the trains, we’ve got some high-rise, we’ve got the hospitals. Then obviously behind us and around us we’ve got dormitories, projects, houses, so we get a mixture of everything,” said Casey. “I’d say this morning since I came in, we’ve had about 10 or 12 calls just for different things.”
Casey was hired by the Boston Fire Department (BFD) in July 2012, and attended the Boston Firefighter Training Academy on Moon Island. Upon graduation in November of last year, he was stationed in Longwood on Engine 37. Two other men from his academy class of roughly 54 new hires were stationed with him. Since then, he has learned the unspoken rules about being a firefighter.
While monitoring calls for fire alarms on a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system in the station, he tries to stay on top of everything that comes in. “The biggest thing with this [system] is if we get a struck box for a fire or something… If I catch that on the computer before they announce it, we get a jump on all the other companies, so we’re the first ones there and that’s where you wanna be. It’s a wicked competition.”
Firefighters on scene have to fight for limited space to set up their engines and ladders, and the area gets pretty congested. There is also another reason, he said: “You wanna be the first one in so if you’re on the engine, you’re on the pipe, you’re running in there with the hose… Cause the second one in that gets there after you is your back-up,” he said. “It’s key to be the first one there.”
Casey’s passion for firefighting was with him since childhood, only growing once he enlisted in the military. “I got a little exposure while I was in the Navy. Up on the flight deck — we’d call it flight deck firefighting — there were helicopters, so we had to be trained, if a helicopter went down, to be able to put the fires out on the ship so we don’t burn the ship down.”
Upon his return, the Dedham native signed up to take the civil service exam. He took some courses at Massasoit Community College, and considered getting a degree in business, like his older brother. Casey said he did not stay there long, because he knew what he wanted to do with his life, and business was not it. He eventually moved to Boston to gain resident hiring preference. Six years after his return from the Navy, he was finally hired as a Boston firefighter.
“The first fire I had was on Annunciation for a third-floor bedroom. I mean, it wasn’t huge, if we hadn’t put it out it woulda been huge,” said Casey. “Everybody had actually made it out when we got there. Basically we just had to go up and put it out and send up the ladder truck, open the windows to ventilate.”
Since that first call, he has been deployed to many emergency situations, and assisted in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15th. His company responded to some of the many “suspicious package” scares that resulted from belongings discarded in the streets by marathon attendees scrambling to get away from the blasts. On that fateful day, he was scheduled to work until about four o’clock, but ended up staying much later.
At the time of the blasts, his company was occupied at another scene. “Obviously with all that going on, you couldn’t leave the city unattended for nothing. So we had a couple medical calls, and we’re creeping — we call it creeping around the area in case they needed additional apparatus, and it just so happened there was a motor vehicle accident and we had to go to that,” said Casey. While at the accident site, he saw the fire engine from Dudley St. zoom past him. “All of a sudden we see them screaming by us, we’re like, oh man.”
It did not take long for his engine to get a call as well. “Shortly after that, you get all the suspicious packages cause everybody just dropped their stuff and ran… One of them was at a hospital,” he said. When his company arrived at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, they discovered the bag had belonged to someone in the military. “It was actually an Army guy that was getting deployed or something and he had his bag zip-tied up. We showed up there, bomb squad showed up, and we’re just there in case anything goes off, for a fire or something like that.” Each suspicious package had to be handled professionally, and the situation was sorted out with no injuries.
The Ladder crew out of the Longwood firehouse ended up at the main scene. “Ladder 26 went, they didn’t even care if they struck a second alarm, they just went over there,” he said. The Engine crew meanwhile, was dispatched to Kenmore Square. “We actually were jumping off, looking for other suspicious packages there.”
While the marathon bombings were out of the ordinary, Casey said that on the job, a firefighter has to be prepared for anything. “It’s always kind of a mixture of everything. You’ve got medicals, you’ve got fires, you can have fires in a dumpster, you can have fires in a house, in a building,” he said. “Everything’s always changing, you never know what you’re gonna get.”
One thing that hasn’t happened, however, is the old wives tail of a cat in a tree. The Longwood station has not received calls for that, but he had heard one such story. “My sister-in-law, her cat got stuck in a tree in Wrentham, and she called the fire department. They said they couldn’t help her,” he said, laughing. “It was stuck like forty feet in a tree or something. Her neighbor had an extension ladder, they ended up climbing up and getting the cat out of the tree.”
Overall, Casey considered his job rewarding, and something he was always meant to do. “I’ve always liked to help people, if I ever saw a situation, I’d always try and help out,” he said. “I figured this would be the best job.”
Casey, a first generation firefighter, said he would never want to leave Boston. It is the best place to be, he said, and he could not imagine living anywhere else.