Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Peter Bici

Peter Bici Firefighter

To be a firefighter, you have to be in top physical shape and be able to stay calm-literally under fire-and work as part of a team, which means putting the needs of others in front of your own. Peter Bici has been a New York City firefighter for well over a year now, and he’s a proud member of the Ladder 18 Company Fort Pitt in Lower Manhattan. To become a firefighter he had to pass a set of written exams and a series of grueling physical tests involving heavy, weighted packs and timed trials up and down stairs. He enjoys the camaraderie of the firehouse and the practical jokes that they all play on each other, which he says maintains an unwritten law of balance. Since life outside the firehouse can be so heavy, the crew likes to keep the pranks inside on constant rotation.

An ex-professional for Zoo York skateboards, Pete was and still is known for his graceful and flamboyant style. He believes that to be a firefighter it helps to be brave, have a strong voice, and openly express yourself, which is also reflected in the way he skates.

Have you ever had skateboarding interrupt your job or ruin your reputation at work?

Not necessarily. If anything, I think it was a cool thing, a good thing. It’s kind of strange, ’cause now when I work at the firehouse, skateboarding is cool. Skateboarding has gone into this other plateau, and when we were skating it was still underground, not everybody really knew about it. Now everyone is playing video games and they know a certain person from the video game. When I was still skating, within five years, it went crazy. So it’s kind of good for me that they now can relate to me from watching TV. But otherwise, it never really interfered. If anything it helped me.

What do your coworkers think about the fact that you skate and that you used to be a pro skater?

They think it’s actually cool. Becoming a firefighter was a real humbling experience for me because you’re the junior guy, so you have to do everything. You gotta mop the floors, you gotta check the rig, you gotta do the paperwork. So it really humbles you and makes you appreciate a lot of things. I was a kid from New York City, skating in the streets. Skateboarding took me all over the world. If anything, they appreciate it because I tell them stories of places I’ve been and where I went. They’re really amazed by that.

Have you ever had skate-related injuries affect your work?

Fortunately, I was smart when I skated-I was, man. If I went big, I would do it in a couple of tries and just land it. Come to think of it, I was thinking pretty smart about my body. As you get older, which sucks, you start feeling it, your body. But fortunately for me, I’m fine, thank god. Because I was skating like every day, and when you’re skating, you’re skating. When you get older, that stays with you. Your cardiovascular is up, so when you’re fit, you’re not really pulling an injury unless you do something really awkward or in an accident. But otherwise, no. Thank god.

Was there any one incident that made you want to become a firefighter?

When I started skateboarding, I was involved. I just fell in love with it, and in my mind and heart, I wanted to become professional. And I worked really hard at it. I sacrificed a lot and fortunately for me, everything went well. I went to that place I wanted to go. Once you become pro, you can always become better, but you pretty much already met that challenge. When I was skateboarding, I saw this ad on the train for the (firefighter) written exam, and I had this really strong feeling-I was so drawn to it-I wanted to become a firefighter. There were really long years of hard work-going to school and then making that transition from being a professional skateboarding to “the real world.” It was really tough. One day you’re skating with all the boys, and then one day you’re in the real world and you’re like, “Wait a minute, it’s not the same.” Fortunately for me, I jumd from one incredible profession of skateboarding to one thrilling profession of firefighting, which is incredible. Plus the whole bond of the FDNY-I felt so drawn to. It’s such a strong, strong, strong bond that we all have on the job.

Why did you feel that?

I just thought that it would be a great thing to be a part of, and I was drawn to that. There’s a lot of history-the pride, the ongoing pride. Overall, it’s just a great feeling going to work, man. I love doing it. It’s incredible, words can’t really say. You’re on the truck and the lights and sirens are going off. There’s no other feeling. It’s better than any feeling. You’re adrenalin is incredible-it’s all-natural.

What’s one of the gnarliest things you’ve seen on the job?

I don’t really like to talk about this too much because it gets kind of heavy. Fortunately, thank god, none of the guys or the brothers or sister on the job have gotten hurt. There’s been minor stuff, but nothing serious. You see mutilated bodies from car accidents and stuff like that, which is part of the job. It’s really heavy, but it’s the type of thing where you can’t really absorb it. You’ve got to, in a sense, look through it. So you definitely have to be mentally tough. I would say becoming a firefighter is not for everyone. You could be the strongest guy in the world, but there are images you have to deal with. You’re the ones who are the first to respond, and you need to go in there with a cool head. The word that we use is organized chaos-you’ve got to be in the middle of it and you’ve got to stay calm. It’s kind of like a weird Zen way of going about it, but that’s how I do it.

What type of things do you have to deal with?

In New York City, we have two rigs, or trucks. One is the Engine, which has the hose in it at the back of the rig, and one’s the Ladder, and I’m in the Ladder. We’re the first ones who go to the fire, apartment, dwelling, or what have you. We force open the door, go in, do a search, and we find the fire. Once we find the fire, we tell the guys in the Engine with the hose to come in and knock the fire down. While they’re advancing into the fire, we search for victims. It’s pretty much like a search and rescue.

What are some of the rewards of your job?

I know I’m going to get jokes for saying this from the guys, but it’s just a great feeling. I always wanted to do something right, but I didn’t know how to focus my energy. You could just start off by donating blood-I’m a blood donor. You could do that or even help out a family member or a neighbor. You don’t have to run into a burning building. It’s a matter of doing the right thing and helping someone out. It’s something you can’t buy. All the money in the world can’t buy that or all the great gifts in the world can’t buy that. Helping others-it’s a great feeling. That’s what we do. For me personally, it’s very rewarding, it’s very satisfying. It’s just a great feeling.

All skaters get hassled by The Man from time to time-how does it feel to be on the other side of a badge or uniform?

It’s funny that I am not The Man. I’m in uniform, but in a different aspect, because we don’t bust the skateboarders. When I first started skating in Queens and went by a fire truck, these two firemen were in all the gear and one guy said, “Hey, kid, let me try your skateboard.” So he got on the skateboard and skated a little bit and I was blown away by that. I thought, “Holy… that’s incredible.” This guy was so cool, he skated and he’s a fireman. That’s a great memory. It’s the kind of thing where I’m still a skater at heart, so I want skaters to skate a spot or whatever it is. The other guys in the uniform, they’re just… Unfortunately, there are guys that are cool about it and guys that are not so cool about it, and they just have to do their job. For me, when it comes to that, I’m still just a pro skater. It feels a little strange, but now I’m a fireman, so I don’t have to deal with that (laughs).

Does anyone give you a hard time about your job?

Not at all. If anything they all praise me, which is a great feeling-no beef at all. I see old friends of mine come into town who are still pro in skating and they definitely praise me, which is a great feeling, because to move on from skateboarding is a hard thing to do, and luckily I’ve found my niche and where I wanted to go with that. Now I just need to find my next challenge.

If you had to choose between the two what would it be?

Wow, that’s tough, but I’d have to say skateboarding. When I skated at my prime, when I had the passion for it, I was traveling all over the world, skating, having fun. There were all these new spots. But if firefighters traveled, I’d pick firefighting.

Which gives you more satisfaction?

I’m gonna have to say firefighting. Every day you go to work and it’s a challenge. Regardless of how you’re feeling or what you were into earlier in the day or what you’re going through, you go to work, you show up to work, and it’s a challenge. You constantly challenge yourself. Skateboarding is the same thing. but I don’t want to compare the two. Like jumping down a rail or running into a burning building-I don’t like to compare stuff, but it would definitely be firefighting.

hs).

Does anyone give you a hard time about your job?

Not at all. If anything they all praise me, which is a great feeling-no beef at all. I see old friends of mine come into town who are still pro in skating and they definitely praise me, which is a great feeling, because to move on from skateboarding is a hard thing to do, and luckily I’ve found my niche and where I wanted to go with that. Now I just need to find my next challenge.

If you had to choose between the two what would it be?

Wow, that’s tough, but I’d have to say skateboarding. When I skated at my prime, when I had the passion for it, I was traveling all over the world, skating, having fun. There were all these new spots. But if firefighters traveled, I’d pick firefighting.

Which gives you more satisfaction?

I’m gonna have to say firefighting. Every day you go to work and it’s a challenge. Regardless of how you’re feeling or what you were into earlier in the day or what you’re going through, you go to work, you show up to work, and it’s a challenge. You constantly challenge yourself. Skateboarding is the same thing. but I don’t want to compare the two. Like jumping down a rail or running into a burning building-I don’t like to compare stuff, but it would definitely be firefighting.