Scholastic students and teachers interviewed the author Chris Ganci.
What made you want to write a kids book about your dad?
I wanted to share my experiences with such a great person with other people, especially children, to give them the same kind of hero that I had grown up with.
Since it's such a personal topic, was it difficult writing a book about your dad? How did you do your research?
It was difficult at times because you get so overwhelmed with emotions. In the end, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To do my research, I contacted people he had worked with in the past, contacted family, and I did a lot of research with his childhood friends. I used the fire department archive, which has millions of historical pictures and the fire department museum, which is in SoHo in Manhattan.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The project started in February of 2002 and I finished it with the pictures, the layout, and the editing by July of 2002. But it took me about a month to actually sit down and write the book.
Do you plan on writing any more children's books? What will the topics be about?
Possibly. My whole family is in the military and one is still in Iraq, and I was thinking of writing a kids book on what it means to be in the military.
Do you plan on becoming a firefighter?
I took the test, but I am currently in business school. I'm starting NYU in September and that takes two years. So it is possibly in my future.
What subjects did you study in college?
I was a biochemistry major, which led me to my first job selling pharmaceuticals.
Did you take any writing classes?
I took one writing class in college - an introduction to narrative writing.
What type of hobbies do you have?
I like to play golf and I have a boat. I like to go clamming and fishing off the south shore of Long Island.
Where do you live?
I live in Massapequa, Long Island.
Can you talk more about the Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Memorial Foundation?
Basically it is a charity that my family started. It provides financial support to families of firefighters. After September 11, people were very generous, and my family wanted to give that generosity back to the people who really needed it. By creating the foundation, we had the opportunity to do that.
It's so difficult losing a loved one. How do you remain strong?
He would want me to be strong. He was strong guy, and he died doing what he loved to do.
What advice do you have for kids who have lost a parent or loved one?
Definitely talk about it. It has definitely helped me to talk about it with my family and friends who are my own age. That is what helped me get through this.
Have any other kids of firefighters talked to you about your book? What have their reactions been?
It has been very positive. The book is not only about my dad, but it is about all firefighters and the dangers that they face every day. Everyone cries when they read it. I have had relatives, like my cousins, who have told me that it's made a difference and changed their perspectives on things that are going on in their lives.
Do you feel that writing the book was a way to help you cope with your loss?
Absolutely. It makes me cry when I look at it.
We are second graders from Webster, NY. How long was your dad a firefighter?
He was a firefighter for 33 years. In some ways it was his first and only job. When he graduated high school, he went into the military, and when he was discharged, he was accepted into the September class of 1968 in the firefighting academy.
Your dad sounds like he loved adventure. Are you the same way? Are you also a thrill seeker?
Not to the extent that he was. I wish I were, and I'm trying to be more of an adventure seeker.
When you were a kid, did you want to be a firefighter yourself?
I wanted to be a doctor. My brother wanted to be the firefighter.
Was your brother also called to the World Trade Center on 9/11? What was his experience like?
My brother was fighting another fire at 8:30 the morning of September 11. Some of the men in his firehouse went to the fire and the rest went to the World Trade Center.
How many medals and awards did your dad earn?
He was cited over ten times, including the Frank Tuttlemondo Award, which is one of the main medals for bravery for firefighters.
Even before receiving the Battalion Chief Frank T. Tuttlemondo Medal in 1983, your father had been cited ten times for heroism. Can you recount what any of those previous ten honors were for?
I don't remember the names, but they are all for being a part of successful rescues.
How would you define the word hero?
A hero is someone who thinks of other people before they think of themselves.
Your book is about brave heroes, but it's also sad and tragic - how would you prepare kids before reading your book?
I would prep them first. Let them know that firefighting is a dangerous profession and sometimes, unexpected things happen. I had the same problem when I started writing the book. How was I going to approach this topic? But then there are a lot topics and books, like Martin Luther King Jr., that are sensitive and difficult for kids to read. But the moral is positive, and that is the main thing for a child to grab instead of the tragic ending.
Are you considering making appearances at schools?
Yes. Mostly in September when schools start up again. I'm really looking forward to that. I think it will be a bit scary and intimidating but rewarding for me.
Each new chapter in your book starts with a quote, a poem, or a song. How did you choose these quotes? How did you find them?
They were really personal. Some of them, like the Teddy Roosevelt quotation, we found randomly. Other ones we found in the library. And the song "Danny Boy" was played in his funeral and was one of his favorite songs.
Is the book available at local bookstores now?
Are you still in touch with Tony Liotta, the firefighter who inspired your father to join the FDNY?
I am. It is interesting. I didn't know the story of Tony and my dad until my dad died, and Tony lives in my town. My mom was the one who told me about it, and I sought him out. We ended up have lunch and really getting along. I have an autographed book that I want to drop off for him later this week.
The story of your father driving away the unattended truck is hilarious. Was he a big practical joker? Do you have any other stories like that one?
Yes, he was a huge practical joker. Sometimes he would untie my golf bag off the back of the golf cart, so when I drove away, it would fall off the back and roll down the hill! He did that all the time.
Have you ever visited the Rock? What is it like? Is the training very intensive? What is involved in training to become a firefighter?
The Rock is the New York City Fire Department's training facility on Randalls Island, and I have visited it. From the physical training to learning how to be a firefighter, it is intense. You have to learn all the apparatus, strategy, technique, learning about different types of fires and how to control and extinguish them. It takes ten weeks to train in the academy, and then you are a probationary firefighter for a year in a firehouse.
We are interested in your family member in Iraq. Many of your family members are involved in community service.
My cousin Dan is a lieutenant in Iraq after graduating from West Point. He's in a palace in Baghdad. It's been rough for all my family. We have so much family serving in the military. You watch the news intently. You have so much more on the line. We have always been a very selfless family. Community service is something that has been ingrained in us. My father has always instilled in us, when we were younger, about helping others. My mom is a nurse for terminally ill children, and my sister is a speech pathologist who is helping developmentally challenged children learn to communicate. My brother Pete is a fireman, and I am the only capitalist in the family. I think my dad did a good job instilling his values in his family.
Do you get to talk to your cousin?
I had e-mailed him when he was in Kuwait, but I haven't talked to him since he was in Iraq. I have talked to another cousin who is on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in the Gulf. E-mail is the only way you can communicate with a family member who is in the military overseas.
How long has your mom been a nurse?
She's been a nurse for about 15-16 years.
At the end of your book, you repeat your father's advice: "It's better to hit the ball straight than far." Did your dad have any advice specifically for aspiring firefighters?
My dad loved firefighting, and he would say, "You will never be rich, but you'll always be happy." Another piece of advice he would give was when your wife asks what you ate at the firehouse; never admit that you had a great meal but say "hotdogs."
Where can people find more information about the Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Memorial Foundation?
There isn't a Web site right now, but there should be one in the future.
(If you would like to send letters to Chris Ganci or find out more information about the Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Memorial Foundation, please send all letters to:
Chris Ganci c/o Beth Levine
Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012)
Is there anything you would like to add?
What firefighters do every day is sometimes overlooked by people, but I hope this book will help give them some of the credit that they deserve.