With a scone in one hand and the morning’s paper in the other, Thomas Dunne sat in the corner of Starbucks observing the walks of life that came in and out of the doors. The commuters in a hurried state, businessmen with their briefcases and mothers with their young children were all unaware that 24 hours before Dunne had been fighting fires and saving lives. It’s that exact contrast that Dunne struggled with as a FDNY Deputy Chief and Chappaqua resident.
“The dichotomy of living in a place that is attractive with deer walking around and working in run down communities with a lot of issues and drug activity always struck me,” Dunne said. “Separated merely by a 45-minute drive, it seemed like one world was totally oblivious to the other world. And yet, I got a window into each one.”
Growing up in Brooklyn and working for a government employment agency, Dunne’s initial interest in joining the FDNY was sparked from the urge to do something different just for a year. Well, 33 years, four rank promotions and roughly 3,200 fires fought later, he became consumed by the fire-fighting feeling and all that came with it.
Whether it was the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie in the firehouse, or a chance to gain new insight on life, serving the greater New York City area for three decades was an honor he never planned on having. But, with one foot in suburbia and one boot in the fire house he couldn’t fully express exactly what it was like for him to be in both worlds–neither of which he felt totally comfortable being in.
After all, how is one supposed to explain what it was like to be a part of the response and recovery team during 9/11 and for months after? It’s not exactly a cocktail party conversation, which is what it became at a neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party he went to after showering off the dust that was still in Lower Manhattan’s air even months later.
Once he retired, Dunne decided to convey his feelings as a firefighter in words and in a work that was easy for readers to understand–and so, Notes From The Fireground: Memoir of a New York Firefighter was born. His second book A Moment in Time is a novel based on his own life and work-related struggles.
One chapter in his first book is dedicated to his very first fire, something he hasn’t forgotten 40 years later. He will also never forget the horror of the Happy Land Social Club fire and all the support his family has given him. On the morning of September 12th, 2001, his wife met him in the driveway after Dunne had been gone for 36 hours straight. She was wearing socks on the wet morning ground and cried in his arms. Between his absence at family holidays and the nervous anticipation that he left them with every time he walked out the door, his family made sacrifices that he will forever be grateful for.
But most of all, he is grateful for the opportunity this line of work provided him with to see how other people live and help them the best that he can. “Every day truly is a gift.”
Visit chieftomdunne.com to learn more about his experiences and to purchase his books.