New York, NY – The “bravest” as a nickname for firefighters most likely came from the term “the bravest of the brave.” In 1862 the term was used in a New York newspaper in a toast to a firefighter, a union Captain who had been a POW in Virginia. A Fire Chief was described with the same phrase a year later during the draft riots. Many more similar mentions followed in the years to come, and the nickname has evolved to be much more than that: it is now a true recognition of bravery and sacrifice, not only on a daily basis, but because of the loss of firefighters’ lives during instances of terrorism such as 9/11. The men who rushed into the burning buildings, and those who survived but later suffered or died from 9/11-related illnesses gave all.
James McCarthy is President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA). He is a second-generation firefighter with over 30 years on the job. He has been treasurer of the UFOA, a delegate and a member of the executive board.
LaborPress learned a bit more from McCarthy, who comes across as humble and a man of few words. He’s been described as a “decorated hero” yet makes no mention of this.
McCarthy was born in the Bronx and spent most of his youth in Rockland County. His father encouraged his brothers and him to take many civil service exams. When it comes to how he learned about firefighting at an early age, he says, “My father retired as a Lieutenant in the FDNY, so I knew about life in the FDNY.”
He attended SUNY at Albany and was working as a salesman for a window and door company when he got the call from the FDNY. About his future career, he says, “I was happy to become a firefighter and have a great job with good pay and benefits.”
On a bit of a personal note, he shares some of his sports preferences, “I spent twenty-one years working in E71/ L55 in The Bronx near Yankee Stadium. I grew up a Mets fan, but I have been to more Yankee World Series games than Mets regular season games.”
The UFOA represents Fire Lieutenants, Captains, and Chiefs in the FDNY. They represent 2600 active members and over 5000 retired Fire officers, he says.
When asked if he has any stories of note to share, McCarthy gives a general answer, and one suspects that the intensity of the job and its many tragedies are the reason: “There are many stories from my time in the FDNY. Most of them are funny, some are scary, and others should not be shared.”
One thing he will say is about the location of where he worked for so many years: the notorious South Bronx. “The South Bronx is a very busy area and there were many times that we found ourselves in peril or took a calculated risk to help people. I have many injuries and hospital visits as a result and do not regret any.”
As President, he has particular goals, “As a member of the UFOA I hope to protect the health and safety of the members. I hope to leave this job in a better place than when I joined, and it was pretty great when I got here.”
There are current challenges now and over the past couple of years. Says McCarthy, “This has been a difficult couple of years for municipal employees. We started with the pandemic, followed by the vaccine mandate. Then we were faced with a healthcare challenge for our Medicare retirees. That was followed by the healthcare changes for the active and retired members. There are always squabbles with management.”