New York, NY – IUOE Local 94 firemen may have enough licenses and certifications to tackle virtually any maintenance issue that could possibly crop up inside a New York City public school building — but their most valuable asset by far, just might be the paternal approach they bring to the job.
“This is all I’ve done my whole life,” 49-year-old father of three Jay Ruiz tells LaborPress. “As a fireman, I can make sure the children have what they need — I’m setting the table for the future. And in order to do that, they must have a clean environment. I’m a father as well so, I do for them what I would want other people to do for my children.”
There are roughly 800 children at P.S. 49 in the Bronx — some as young as 3-years-old — who rely on Ruiz to make sure the school building they enter each day is safe, comfortable and conducive to learning.
“I really love to see them happy,” he says. “I like to see them studying in clean classrooms.”
Beyond the constant scrubbing and sweeping that goes on both inside and outside the public school buildings IUOE Local 94 firemen help maintain — there are boilers to be maintained, exhaust systems to be checked, water lines to be flushed, compressors to be inspected, thermostats to be calibrated, tubes to be cleaned, and on and on.
“It’s a great responsibility — but I love my job,” Ruiz says.
The job title of DOE “fireman” harkens back to the days when workers stoked coal fire furnaces to heat New York City public school buildings.
IUOE Local 94 fireman Sean Ruddy actually shoveled coal for three years at the start of his more than three-decade career. Like Ruiz, the 54-year-old Ruddy looks at the kids in his building as an extension of his own family.
“I have four children and four grandchildren,” Ruddy tells LaborPress. “I want this place to be as nice as possible, as I would if my own kids came here. I take a lot of pride in what I do — I try to keep the building in the best shape possible.”
I have four children and four grandchildren. I want this place to be as nice as possible, as I would if my own kids came here. — IUOE Local 94 School Fireman Sean Ruddy
In addition to carrying handicapped students down staircases whenever the old elevators at P.S. 107 in Queens used to go on the blink, and sleeping in the building to get a jumpstart clearing heavy snowfalls — Ruddy’s patrimonial affinity for his work over the years, has included the creation of an eponymously bit of topiary and a zen-like waterfall feature outside the school grounds that have forever become indelible touchstones for Thomas A. Dooley students.
“I’m just really proud of what I do,” Ruddy says. “I have kids who have graduated from here, who are now bringing their own kids here.…some of their greatest memories were being in this school.”
This spring, the Floral Park resident and his family will officially celebrate Ruddy’s 30th year as a school fireman.
Later this week, meanwhile, Ruiz will take another exam to acquire still one more building certification.
“It’s a challenging thing,” he says. “In order to be good at what a firemen needs to do in the building, you have to obtain the certificates. You have to know — it’s not something you can just Google.”
Fortunately, Ruiz’s wife Edna — a public school teacher who he worked alongside for 14 years before they started dating — is helping him study. The couple married on April 15, 2016 — the same date Ruiz’s own parents wed.
“You don’t want to put just anybody in schools — we have babies here,” Ruiz says. “I’m happy that Local 94 does drug tests and background checks. There a lot of crazy people out there. Children should be in settings where they have a chance. You need people you can rely on — and that’s what Local 94 does. And I’m really proud of my union.”