A Look Inside the Burning Bravery of a Fireman

For decades now, firefighters have been an instrumental part of our society. They are the ones who strap up in their turnout jacket, pants, boots, and hard helmet to go into burning buildings when everyone else is running out of them. The firefighters go in fearless and face the intense heat of the flames and the blinding, suffocating smoke. They do this because it is their job and is what they chose to do for a living. It’s a part of being in a special brotherhood.

On 9/11, their bravery made national headlines. Three-hundredforty- three firefighters gave their lives to try to save people from the World Trade Center. So many people across the country were grateful for their efforts, but as time went on it seemed to be forgotten that firefighters are still out there day in and day out giving their all and putting their lives on the line for their job.

Former Deputy Chief of the Linden Fire Department, Danny Gurrera, was a part of the firefighter brotherhood for 32 years before retiring in June 2011. For each and every one of those years, he gave the job his everything.

Danny, who is happily married and is the father of two sons, stands at 5’10 and is in great physical shape with a short military style haircut and a goatee that is now speckled with grey. His physique has been something that his fellow firefighters have joked with him about over the years. At his retirement dinner, when his name was called the entire room was flooded with the sounds of chirping. It turns out that many of his fellow firefighters said with his muscular upper body and skinny legs, he resembled a bird.

When asked about other jokes around the house, Danny simply replied with a big smile and said, “It’s like Vegas. What happens in the firehouse stays in the firehouse.”

The journey towards becoming a firefighter started back when he was 18 years old. Back then you couldn’t take the firefighter’s test until you were 21, but luckily for Dan he wanted to join the Navy, which was where he served until he was 22.

“I took the test a year after I was out of the Navy, and two years after that I was hired by the Linden Fire Department, which was where I would spend the next 32 years,” said Dan. He also noted that being in the Navy prepared him for the job and made him a better officer.

Danny would go on to work his way through the ranks over the years. He went from private, to lieutenant, to captain and then to deputy chief. Dan never wanted the Chief position because he has never been a fan of politics and politics were a part of being the Chief. He was also not a resident of Linden and he felt the Chief should live in town.

Becoming a firefighter almost didn’t happen for Dan. Back when he was in the Navy, he had to have an Ileostomy done and if he didn’t he would have died. According to The American Cancer Society, an Ileostomy is a surgical opening made by bringing the end or loop of the small intestine, also called the ileum, out onto the surface of the skin. Intestinal waste passes out of the ileostomy and is collected in an external pouching system stuck to the skin.

One would think that this could cause a problem for an active firefighter, but Dan said he never let it faze him.

“It never affected me on the job. I’m in the gym five days a week, I play hockey, do work around the house, etc. It only affects you if you let it affect you,” said Dan.

As far as close calls on the job go, Danny recalls the worst fire he was ever a part of which occurred on Irene Street in Linden back in 1991.

Dan was fighting a fire in a twoand- a-half family house, when all of a sudden the floor gave way and he fell through two floors into the basement of the house. He says he was very lucky to have landed on his feet while only injuring his shoulder and slightly burning his neck. Danny had to be rescued from the fire by other members of his crew, who pulled him out of the basement using the human chain method. He was able to save the lives of two people in that fire before he fell through the floor.

His wife, Mary Ann Gurrera, vividly remembers that day and it really hit home for her just how dangerous his job was.

“There was one time that I will always remember. I was waiting for Dan to come home from a shift in the morning and I was preparing to go to work myself and he was v ery l ate. M y fi rst t hought was that he might be taking too long greeting the men coming on the morning shift because I tried not to let my mind go to the worse scenario. He walked in the door as I was leaving for work and his arm was in a sling and he was walking gingerly,” said Mary Ann.

One of the most difficult things about being a firefighter is dealing with some of the grotesque sights you may see when you are out on a job. Danny noted how he has seen automobiles do horrible things to the body. He even went on to note how a motor vehicle is like one big shredder.

“The last one I saw was a 21-year-old girl who jumped the divider on the highway and hit a tractor trailer head on. Her phone was in mid-text, so she was obviously driving and texting. It’s things like that you don’t forget. We all think we’re invincible, but bad things happen,” said Dan.

Danny was not ready to call it quits on being a firefighter yet, but he had to retire due to the changes Governor Chris Christie was making to public worker’s pensions.

“There’s a certain slim individual in Trenton that was threatening to take a lot of things away that were promised to us; that were negotiated by us, not given to us. It was earned and not handed to us. No one knew what he was going to do and I wasn’t going to get any more money out of my pension so it was too much to risk with my percentage maxed out, so I ran because I wasn’t going to risk it” said Danny.

An article in the Star-Ledger detailed Christie’s plan that would require public workers to pay more for their pensions and health care plans. They would basically be losing five percent of their pensions, which adds up over time. When this was on the verge of passing, Danny knew he couldn’t stick around and let this happen to him after 32 years of hard work on the job.

With his retirement, Dan started a new chapter of his life. He no longer has to miss holidays, family events, or be away from home on 24 hour shifts. Dan now has time to fix things around the house, spend time with the family and enjoy the occasional Budweiser and a nice Cuban cigar. He also keeps busy with working part time on a golf course, which is strange to him, but in a way it brought things full circle. He referred to this change as the “circle of life.”

“I’m back to a minimum wage earning after being a boss for 27 years and now I’m working for a guy younger than me. Circle of life,” said Dan.

Dan may be working at a golf course now, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been an influence to many and is what many people would call a hero.

“I could not be more proud and honored to be married to a man who dedicated 32 years of his life to firefighting. He is my hero and more courageous than he would ever admit. He truly loved his job and the brotherhood that developed through the years on the job,” said Mary Ann. “I know in my heart that he would have not been happy doing anything else. I believe he loved firefighting so much that it was really wasn’t a ‘job’ to him.”

His co-workers noticed his efforts as well, including longtime friend Deputy Joseph Dooley.

“The most important thing I can say about Danny as a Firefighter is that he was a fireman. In our language it means he was a guy who would fight fires, work hard and not give up at a fire, which is the ultimate compliment. I am probably a Deputy Chief in large part due to Danny. He set the example and the goals, I followed along,” said Deputy Dooley.