FDNY commissioner's first goal is safety
New Fire Commissioner Cassano is giving firefighters new masks and audio equipment
BY Jonathan Lemire
NEW YORK — After more than 40 years in the FDNY, new Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano knows the job's glories — and its risks.
A "firefighter's firefighter" with five citations for bravery, Cassano's voice still trembles when he describes losing a colleague in a blaze. He has made it his mission to prevent others from making that supreme sacrifice.
"If you're going to send someone into harm's way, you should know what that's like," said Cassano, who traded in his uniform for a suit when he assumed command of the department this month.
"I know what it's like to run into a burning building and so I know what it means to ask someone else to do that," he said.
Cassano is trying to protect his firefighters by giving them the best possible equipment — they're getting new masks and audio equipment — and adjusting mind-sets, he said.
"We're not telling people not to be brave. But we're telling them to do it a little safer," said Cassano, who helped produce the "Everyone Goes Home" campaign that teaches firefighters there is nothing cowardly about retreating or seeking help.
Firefighter burn injuries dropped 29% in the past year, and Cassano is confident his leadership on safety issues will lead to further improvements.
"If I can't change it, nobody can change it," he said. "We don't want people taking unnecessary risks."
Cassano's stance is shaped by his memory of loss, and he can remember every moment of Black Sunday, the dark day five years ago when the FDNY lost three men.
"I remember being in the hospital in the Bronx and getting a call that one of the men in Brooklyn was trapped and it looked bad," Cassano said. "It was devastating. Devastating."
Eugene Stolowski, who survived a five-floor jump from the burning Bronx building on Black Sunday, applauded Cassano's efforts.
"Safety is paramount," said Stolowski, who is continuing his recovery and works for the FDNY's family assistance unit. "Cassano knows this. He's a great man and a firefighter's firefighter."