Monday, June 1, 2020

A nurse went to New York to work on the front lines — and to find the firefighter who saved her life over 36 years ago

Deirdre Taylor is pictured outside her home in Alexandria, Va., as her family looks on from behind the door. Pugliese, 75, had never had someone track him down to say thank you before, he told The Post on Wednesday.

The former Marine became a New York City police officer for several years before switching over to become a firefighter, working the SoHo neighborhood until he retired in 1996.

For decades, the Daily News front-page article hung in his office, surrounded by all his fire department and Yankees memorabilia.

How could he forget Deirdre? “I’ve had her picture on my wall for 24 years,” he said.

Saving her life was the highlight of his career, he said. He remembers the day clearly. He and his fire company were fixing a broken pipe in SoHo on a frigid December afternoon, when a man came running up Wooster Street, right up to Pugliese, yelling that there was a fire.

Pugliese followed him, taking off at a sprint. The man guided him to the sixth-floor apartment where thick smoke was billowing out, and Pugliese went in. He called out for anyone inside, before finding an artist’s studio engulfed in flames.

Taylor’s mother was crying, “My baby! My baby!” Pugliese remembered. He quickly helped her out of the room before returning on his hands and knees, crawling through the burning studio and blinding smoke for about six feet, when he felt the child.

She was unconscious. He carried her to the living room, where he gave her mouth-to-mouth to bring her back. He rushed down the six flights of stairs to get her to an ambulance, when to Pugliese’s relief, she woke up and started to cry.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Pugliese said, “and thank God we were there.”

Pugliese, who now lives in Spring Lake, N.J., later received a medal of valor for Taylor’s rescue, in a ceremony that is among his most prized memories. He said he dreamed about it as recently as two weeks ago — just as Taylor was trying to track him down.

Taylor’s first two weeks in New York were overwhelming, as she and her colleagues intubated patient after patient struggling to breathe, “something I’ll never forget,” she said. During her time off, she tried on one occasion to go to the firehouse where Pugliese worked, only to find a sign on the door discouraging visitors due to COVID-19.

But finally, last week, Taylor caught a break. A group of firefighters came to the ER to deliver the medical staff pizzas for dinner, to show their appreciation. Taylor followed the group to the ambulance bay, explaining that she was trying to find a likely retired fireman from Ladder No. 20, and did they have any suggestions on how to start?

One of the firemen gave her a phone number to connect her with the fire chief. She called when her shift ended in the morning, explaining her mission to find Eugene Pugliese once more, and bracing herself for bad news.

“Oh, Gene?” the chief told her. “He stops by the firehouse all the time.”

“My heart literally skipped a beat,” Taylor told The Post. “I couldn’t believe it. I really didn’t think he was still going to be around. I really thought I was going to hit a dead end. He said, ‘Yeah, I have his phone number in my cellphone.’ ”

The chief phoned Pugliese right away. Less than an hour later, Taylor’s phone rang.

“It’s Gene Pugliese,” he said. “I’m the firefighter who rescued you that day.”

Finally, Taylor told him what she had been meaning to say.

Taylor said she could only describe the moment as surreal. Pugliese asked if her hair was still blond. It was. He told her the story of the fire, and she told him the story of her life afterward. They learned they had plenty in common. Both were die-hard Yankees fans. Both spent time in the military, Taylor as an Army helicopter pilot in the Connecticut National Guard, Pugliese in Vietnam.

After the call, Pugliese said, “I cried for the rest of the day.”

Pugliese said that learning that the toddler he saved all those years ago is now an emergency room nurse on the front lines of the pandemic has been all the more powerful to him because a former colleague at the firehouse recently died of COVID-19. The battalion chief who died, Al Petrocelli, was the one who nominated Pugliese for the medal of valor award, Pugliese said.

Taylor and Pugliese would have liked to meet in person, but Taylor said it’s too risky given that she is in contact with COVID-19 patients every day. They hope to find a way to meet in the future.

“It’s a shame there’s no baseball,” he said. “I’d love to go to a Yankees game with her, once this has subsided. I’d love to meet her children. I’d love to meet her in the fire station.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

James Mattis: Let’s honor the fallen by protecting our fragile experiment in democracy

A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday.
A soldier places a flag in front of a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day in Arlington on Thursday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
On Memorial Day this year, we may be keeping social distance from one another, but that cannot detract from the sense of closeness, the sense of community and the sense of shared sacrifice that we feel for one another on a day when we come face-to-face with the human cost of freedom.

What do we owe our fallen and their families on this day? Remembrance, for sure, yet we also owe a keen awareness of what they fought to defend: this great big experiment we call America.

The Founders — most of whom were military veterans — knew that the nation they were forming was an experiment, a test of the idea that people could live together and rule themselves, guided by the spirit of cooperation. The Constitution they devised was itself hammered out among those willing to compromise, giving birth to this experiment.

Upon being elected the first U.S. president, Gen. George Washington at his inauguration said, “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

In his wisdom and humility, Washington saw the daunting challenge of keeping our experiment alive, and the role of American citizens in proving to the world that people didn’t need a king or a tyrant: We, the people, could rule ourselves.

Following the nation’s rugged birth, this radical idea has periodically needed defending by patriots, many of whom have given their lives and whom we honor on this day.

Those include the Union soldiers who gave their last full measure to hold the nation together and cast out the heinous practice of slavery, imported from the Old World, that had been a defect since America’s birth.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s short address dedicating a military cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, he exhorted his listeners to resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln knew he had to say it out loud: This republican form of government could, in fact, perish — unless we fought for it, unless we dedicated our lives to living up to its ideals, unless we were willing to compromise with one another, while working always to improve the fairness of life for every American.

Nearly a century later, President John F. Kennedy — a World War II veteran — echoed that message in his 1961 inaugural address when he said we must be ready to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship . . . to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Generation after generation of patriots have given their all to keep this precious legacy alive. That is why we gather every year to pay our respects to those who went down swinging to protect and defend our Constitution and our way of life.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines serve a country that, even in its most raucous times, is worth defending. They swear to do so at their personal peril, signing a blank check to all the American people, payable with their lives.

Our veterans have learned the hard way, having lost buddies in battle, that this nation has no ordained right to exist. America’s freedoms do not stand unassailed. Dictators and authoritarians look with fear on our freedom, our experiment, our republican model — a model that has long served as an inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

We are most indebted to our veterans who fell, and their families, for the survival of this experiment. They can never be fully repaid, but we begin to do so by respecting one another in this land of boundless possibilities, because those who faced down danger and paid the price on our behalf deserve no less.

Many of us enjoy America’s freedom by an accident of birth, yet we all live free in this land by our own choice. It is our responsibility to show respect and genuine friendship to each other as fellow citizens — including those with whom we sometimes disagree — by unifying around our radical idea. That is how we can meet our ultimate responsibility: to turn over to the next generation a republic in better shape than we received it.

Those who fell while wearing our nation’s cloth in defense of freedom, and the Gold Star families of their survivors, paid an everlasting price. Every American owes them a commitment to keeping vibrant the experiment for which they died.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Early Challenge Trivia

The very first Challenge was held at the University of Maryland’s Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI). It was a fitting location since the facility served as the site for the original research (1976-6), funded by the predecessor to FEMA, the NFPCA (National Fire Prevention and Control Administration). Blissfully, the name was shortened to NFA and absorbed into FEMA by the time we started the national program, known by its current title.

The year was 1991. Five of the political jurisdictions in the greater Washington, DC SMA (statistical metropolitan area) participated. Montgomery, Prince Georges, Arlington, Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria were represented by five-person teams.

I recruited a bunch of my fire service buddies to serve as resetters and course officials. We used the drill tower and the first Keiser “slammer”- a prototype that was 9’ long with a painted tray. One Stanley shot mallet, in black rubber had to last for the entire duration (barely).

All of the props excepting the Keiser were provided by MFRI. It was an understatement to say that this was a learning experience. For example, there’s a huge difference in the durability of fire hose, by brand.

Competitors were fed into the tower on a shotgun-style of start. When one firefighter exited, another entered, with each followed by an official with a stopwatch. There were no banners, music or announcer. But there was a group of spectators who cheered wildly for their favorites.

About midway into the event, Jimmy Jarboe, a lieutenant from my department, the City of Takoma Park saw the looming problem of a competitor being lapped. The dummy we were using weighed 175 pounds - the same weight as the current Simulaids Rescue Randy®.

Jimmy sprinted to the pickup line for the dummy drag and took the place of the vacant mannequin. Just this past week, Jimmy, now Fire Chief, and I reminisced, with some laughs about the event.

We had coverage from the now-defunct Fire Chief magazine and the CBS affiliate WUSA channel 9 - all of which would be leveraged for DuPont Nomex and Kevlar taking the show on the road for the first two years.

Ben Barksdale, presently the fire chief of Orlando was there, and continued his presence for over 20 years.

Fire Chief James E. Jarboe, Takoma Park Station Montgomery County MD
The Original “Rescue Jimmy”

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Firefighter Combat Challenge: Not Just about Fitness

By Jason Martino
Palm Beach County Fire/Rescue

The Firefighter Combat Challenge is not just about fitness. It’s not just about getting into shape for a competition that revolves around the tasks associated with the fire service. It’s not fake firefighting or firefighting for people who can’t handle the real thing. I heard those words several times over the 7 years, as I competed in the FFCC with my team from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and Local 2928.

What it is about, is dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood, and family. It’s about getting the best tricks of the FFCC passed down to you from the ones that competed before. Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly the same thing that is done in the fire service.

It all came together for me when I attended this year’s Orlando Fire Conference. I was sitting toward the front of the conference room listening to both Chief Bob Hoff, Chicago Fire Dept. (retired), Asst. Chief Carol Stream (IL) FD, published author, Chief Rick Kolomay, and Carol Stream (IL), another published author. All were speaking about how they viewed leadership in the fire service. They spoke about how everyone has a story, and how those stories could and should benefit the people who come after you. They shared personal stories about what happened to them along their careers, and how they learned from one another.

It wasn’t until they showed a video of the 1985 Chicago Bears, (Super Bowl Champs), that something clicked within me. It was a video that portrayed their passion for the game, as well as how they worked together as a team. The hours they spent training, as well as their dedication, sacrifice, and teamwork in addition to the brotherhood and family foundation they had. I’ll ask you again, sound familiar?

All of this started to sink in over the next few days of the conference. It was one of those things that you think and talk about at these conferences, over a couple of beers. The way I approached the FFCC was the same way people approached the fire service. The fire service is set in dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood and family. The very same values I used to describe the FFCC.

For me it rang true 2010, when the FFCC team I was on won the National title, as well as the World Championship title. It was the first time in the history of the FFCC that that had occurred. It was only possible because of the values mentioned about that ring true in both the FFCC and the fire service. It also happened due to the people that had come before us and passed down their advice and experiences.

My fire department had a team in the early days of the FFCC, and they were good. They had won medal upon medal and accomplished so much. They were doing more than winning in those days, they were laying the foundation and contributing to the history of the Palm Beach County Local 2928 FFCC team. They were making mistakes on the course and learning from them. They would take those mistakes, readjust things and put them into practice. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but all along the way they were laying the tracks for us new guys. Passing down their knowledge and the gold nuggets they learned along the way. As the older guys started to step aside, the young guys took over the team.

Just like in the fire service, when the older guys retire, the young guys take over. Like the fire service, the new guys take what the old guys pass down to them and put it into action. That’s exactly what we did. We took the advice of the old guys and how they took on the FCC, and put it into action.

Not everyone can be a firefighter, as it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. However, if you can cut it, it is the best and most rewarding job in existence. I don’t say this lightly when I say that you should be in shape to do this job. You don’t have to be in FFCC shape, but you need to be in good shape to do the job properly.

The FFCC is the same way, not anyone can do it. You have to be a firefighter to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re a volunteer, paid, forestry, aircraft, or industrial firefighter. All that matters is that you are a firefighter and you are in good shape.

The first time you run the whole course, you’ll know what kind of shape you are in. Just like the first time you run a fire in full gear, breathing compressed air, pulling a line or hoisting some tools, you’ll know what shape you are in.

The fire service changes over time, and so did the FFCC. As we got closer as a team, we became brothers. We trained, we had dedication, and our families sacrificed time away from us so we could train and compete. We had guys on the team that specialized in some components of the FFCC. We had Mac, the technical guy. He knew where we should place our hands on the rail as we ran up the stairs, and how we should use our weight to come down the stairs faster. We had Lee, who knew about products. He suggested which compression pants we should wear, and had input on our diet. We had Aaron, our logistics guy, who made sure that everything from hotel rooms to the entry fees were taken care of. We had Jacques, he was the old man of the group, (senior Jake). He had been around with the older guys, but stuck around a few extra years. He had advice from earlier experiences in years past, and he was constantly pushing us. So much sometimes, it was aggravating. And then there was me. The liaison between the team, the Department and the Union. I was also the spokesman, (PIO) of the group.

I could go on and on about what each of us put into our FFCC team, but it had the same components of the successful Chicago Bears team of 85, as well as the same components of a successful fire company. A successful fire company has guys that are utilized in the area that they are best in, as well as what is best for the company. A successful company is dedicated, they sacrifice if needed, they understand the need for teamwork and training. They understand and “GET” brotherhood and the importance of family. Not just the family at the firehouse, but the family we leave behind every morning.

Just like I didn’t want to let my brothers on the FFCC team down, I didn’t want to let my brothers down at the firehouse. Just like any successful fire company, times change and people get promoted or take other assignments. The same was true with our team.

Although we don’t compete in the FFCC anymore, we all have moved on to different types of challenges in our life. Some have started a family, some are studying for promotion, and others are off serving our country. As I reflect on our FFCC memories it makes me smile to know what we accomplished together. But just like any successful fire company we all have great memories and have new friends from all over the country. We stay in touch and get together every now and then. If any of us need anything, we are all there for each other. The success of our team is a good example of what a successful fire company is comprised of.

As I see it, my FFCC team had all the components of the successful 85 Bears, as well as a successful fire company.

For those who told me along the way that the FFCC was fake firefighting, I say you are wrong. Dead Wrong. 

Stay safe, train hard, stay dedicated.
Captain Jason Martino

Monday, April 27, 2020

Members of Previous Generations Now Seem Like Giants

Victor Davis Hanson:

Many of the stories about the gods and heroes of Greek mythology were compiled during Greek Dark Ages. Impoverished tribes passed down oral traditions that originated after the fall of the lost palatial civilizations of the Mycenaean Greeks.

Dark Age Greeks tried to make sense of the massive ruins of their forgotten forbearers’ monumental palaces that were still standing around. As illiterates, they were curious about occasional clay tablets they plowed up in their fields with incomprehensible ancient Linear B inscriptions.

We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.

Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?

Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno — and not yet a foot of track laid.

Who were those giants of the 1960s responsible for building our interstate highway system?

California’s roads now are mostly the same as we inherited them, although the state population has tripled. We have added little to our freeway network, either because we forgot how to build good roads or would prefer to spend the money on redistributive entitlements.

When California had to replace a quarter section of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco Bay Bridge, it turned into a near-disaster, with 11 years of acrimony, fighting, cost overruns — and a commentary on our decline into Dark Ages primitivism. Yet 82 years ago, our ancestors built four times the length of our singe replacement span in less than four years It took them just two years to design the entire Bay Bridge and award the contracts.

Our generation required five years just to plan to replace a single section. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spent six times the money on one quarter of the length of the bridge and required 13 agencies to grant approval. In 1936, just one agency oversaw the entire bridge project.

California has not built a major dam in 40 years. Instead, officials squabble over the water stored and distributed by our ancestors, who designed the California State Water Project and Central Valley Project.

Contemporary Californians would have little food or water without these massive transfers, and yet they often ignore or damn the generation that built the very system that saves us.

America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moon shot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

Hollywood once gave us blockbuster epics, brilliant Westerns, great film noirs, and classic comedies. Now it endlessly turns out comic-book superhero films or pathetic remakes of prior classics.

Our writers, directors and actors have lost the skills of their ancestors. But they are also cowardly, and in regimented fashion they simply parrot boring race, class and gender bromides that are neither interesting nor funny. Does anyone believe that the Oscar ceremonies are more engaging and dignified than in the past?

We have been fighting in Afghanistan without result for 18 years. Our forefathers helped to win World War II and defeat the Axis Powers in four years.

In terms of learning, does anyone believe that a college graduate in 2020 will know half the information of a 1950 graduate?

In the 1940s, young people read William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck. Are our current novelists turning out anything comparable? Could today’s high- school graduate even finish “The Good Earth” or “The Grapes of Wrath”?

True, social media is impressive. The internet gives us instant access to global knowledge. We are a more tolerant society, at least in theory. But Facebook is not the Hoover Dam, and Twitter is not the Panama Canal

Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.

As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we shout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: “Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?”

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods

Victor Davis Hanson:

Monday, April 13, 2020

The debt reckoning has finally arrived

Robert Samuelson, the Washington Post 

We finally have a plausible answer to a question that has haunted U.S. government for more than half a century: Why should we bother balancing the budget?

The answer, as practiced by political leaders of both parties, has been: We shouldn’t. It’s too hard. Spending has to be cut or taxes have to be raised. These steps are unpopular. Meanwhile, the benefits of balancing the budget seemed negligible or nonexistent. Why bother?

This was, we should know now, the wrong answer. The right answer — meaning what we should have been doing since the 1960s — is balancing the budget in good times and tolerating budget deficits when the economy faces a recession, a major war or some unforeseen ­catastrophe.

Instead, we found excuses to justify expedient policies: spending more and taxing less. What we conveniently overlooked was the need to preserve our borrowing power for an unknown crisis that requires a huge infusion of federal cash. Because the amounts are so large and the need so pressing, massive borrowing cannot be avoided.

The reckoning has finally, though inevitably, arrived. Since 1960, the federal budget has been in the black only five years (1969 and 1998-2001), and each of these tiny surpluses arrived courtesy of a fleeting economic boom. The coronavirus pandemic is moving the debt into unknown territory, greater than the borrowing undertaken to fight World War II. In 1946, the federal debt held by the public was 106 percent of gross domestic ­product.

Already, existing deficits would bring that total to nearly 100 percent of GDP by 2030, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, if all costs are covered by borrowing. In 2019, the existing federal debt held by the public was $16.8 trillion. Let’s assume that the total cost of the rescue will be $4 trillion, about half of which has already been approved by Congress. This would add about 18 percent of GDP to the existing federal debt.

Most economists seem to assume that these immense amounts can be easily borrowed. Debt denominated in other currencies (the euro, the yen) is unattractive. And low dollar interest rates will keep down the costs of servicing the debt, say economists.

“Until now, the debt has involved few adverse side effects. Interest rates seemed largely unaffected. Deficits don’t seem to have “crowded out” private investment. There haven’t been crippling runs on the dollar on foreign exchange markets. Just the opposite: The dollar has been “strong,” reflecting its role as the premier global currency, used to conduct trade, make cross-border investments and provide a “safe” asset against political and economic turmoil.

But there was no guarantee that this good fortune would continue indefinitely. It’s the “something for nothing” premise that makes deficits so politically appealing. The most obvious beneficiaries are, of course, politicians. Democrats could promote more social spending. Republicans could pledge more tax cuts. Aside from empty rhetoric about curtailing deficits, hardly anyone felt a need to balance the books.

But blaming politicians is a superficial conclusion. The real agents of budget deficits were academic economists, who destroyed a preexisting political consensus to balance the budget as a matter of sound policy and prudence, as Bill White argues in his highly informative 2014 book, “America’s Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse.”

The old norm was this: If more government was worth having, it was worth paying for with taxes. To this sensible standard, economists — in an act of intellectual and political arrogance — took a sledgehammer. First and foremost came the Democratic Keynesians, disciples of economist John Maynard Keynes. They convinced President John F. Kennedy that the federal budget could be used to stimulate faster economic growth and lower unemployment.

Next came the Republican “supply-siders” and their tax cuts. Inexorably, the old political norm (what should government do and how should it be paid for?) was casually discarded. In its place was a new norm: that federal budgets should be viewed as instruments of economic policy.

Under the old norm, White argues, government borrowing was mostly limited to a few national needs: acquiring land (the Louisiana Purchase), conducting war and cushioning business slumps. But government also had to control spending. Except for the Great Depression, this consensus generally served the country reasonably well.

Once the old norm had been shattered, it couldn’t easily be reestablished because it was no match for the new norm’s political appeal. The growing debt makes it harder to pay for other vital programs, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the FBI to defense. The promise of an improved economy rationalized deficits, though these promises rarely materialized.

The coronavirus pandemic, while unavoidable, has been made worse by our past expedience. The future almost certainly holds similar surprises: a nuclear exchange, a biomedical attack, another financial crisis or something no one has yet imagined. A prudent nation would be saving against this prospect. We aren’t.