Damn Deaths and Tuna
The loss of brothers and differing
coping strategies and needs
I have received a few letters recently about dealing with death, firefighter suicides, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioral health—the so-called
impact of the things we deal with—asking my
thoughts. Each one of the letters is very important,
and I am going to address them in general, from my
This isn’t a “Dear Nozzlehead” letter but a piece
about the recent deaths of three good friends,
losses I have personally experienced. Sad as
it seems, there have been more than three in
the past several months; that tends to happen
as you get older, but these three were hard to process.
I am writing my personal thoughts related to those.
This is not a feel-sorry-for-me piece and definitely
not a story that’s about “me,” not by a long shot,
but it is a piece that further helped me understand
how others deal with bad stuff ... and this will allow
me to address the letters that were written to me and
pass that on to you.
Let me introduce you to three of my firefighter
brothers who recently passed away.
Chief Russ Randolph, 55, Trailer Estates Fire
Rescue District in Manatee County, Bradenton,
Florida: We Got One, Let’s Go!
Russ was a dear and very close life-long family
and professional friend, with our first meeting taking place when he chased our fire apparatus on his
bicycle in the very early ’70s. One of the first “bike
calls” he made was arriving on a scene in the middle
of town where the crew and I were doing CPR on his
dad, and our close friendship remained ever since.
From crawling hallways in the ’70s and ’80s together
with our Rescue Company 3 crew at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department on Long
Island (NY) to his public safety and fire
service career in Florida, this was a man
who did nothing but good. Absolutely
nothing but good.
Russ functioned as an active volunteer
chief (and retired career firefighter) up
until his last few months as a horrible
disease started to take over. It sucked.
He was losing his smile. I had a chance to spend time
with him just days prior to his death (October 2016)
and, along with another one of our “squad,” Herbie
K, we told jokes (real stupid jokes) to a barely con-
scious Russ, who had tubes and wires in and out of
him, and watched him crack a bare smile. He knew
his fellow morons were there with him.
Those who knew Russell always smiled and chuck-
led when his name came up or when he walked in a
bay or room; he was one of those people—hopefully
you know the type—who would make you lucky. He
was that kind of firefighter. Crazy. Firefighter. Seri-
ously, crazy. By every account, Russ was absolutely
one of the good guys. He LOVED the fire ser-
vice—24/7/365. That hit me about all three of these
men I am writing about, and I am not just saying
that. If one of these guys were not, I would tell you
that too, but these were the good guys. The T-shirts
and brotherhood stickers … they were made with
these three guys in mind.
FDNY Firefighter Ray Pfeifer, 59, was “that
guy” who pushed to save others, on fire calls and
... while fighting for his own life.
Do the right thing, even when no one is look-
ing. That was the “mantra” or “theme” of one of the
most inspirational men I, and so many others, ever
FDNY Firefighter Ray Pfeifer died in the line of
duty in May from the injuries, illness, sickness, and
disease he, like so many others, contracted while
operating on 9/11 at the World Trade Center.
Since 2009, cancer had taken his kidney, leg, and a
bunch of other physical stuff, but it never touched his
heart. Those of you who knew Ray know what I am
talking about. Those of you who don’t
will just have to trust us—and I would
never lie to you. His heart couldn’t be
touched by cancer.
You actually DO know Ray. He
was “that” FDNY firefighter in the
wheelchair who, along with numer-
ous FDNY and NYPD troops and
supporters, including famous guy Jon
Stewart, made more than 14 trips
to Washington D.C. to convince
reluctant lawmakers to expand benefits
Chief Russ Randolph.