Joe Ciscone Fulfills Childhood Dream of Becoming a Firefighter
Ever since he can remember, Joe Ciscone has been drawn to firefighting. As a young boy in Brooklyn, he remembers the excitement of hearing the sirens and seeing the flashing lights. That interest continued to grow when he and his family moved to East Haven when he was nine years old.
When Joe turned 16, he joined the Fire Explorer program, taking part in that for two years before he was able to become an official volunteer firefighter with the town. He continued as a volunteer for six years before he was hired as a career firefighter by the City of New Haven.
“After a few years there, I got hired in East Haven and came home—Brooklyn is where I was born, but East Haven is my hometown,” says Joe. “I wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was young. There was something about the sirens, the lights, and the excitement of the fire trucks.”
Joe has now experienced that excitement for more than 33 years. Throughout that time, he has experienced “some significant” injuries resulting in five major surgeries. Joe is now beginning to consider setting a date for his retirement.
“I’ll be retiring in the near future, but even after you retire, you’re still part of the family,” says Joe. “[Those I work with] are my brothers and sisters. Sometimes you’re spending more time with them than your own family—holidays, nights, weekends—and we go to each other’s family parties and weddings.”
In addition to the physical toll firefighting has taken, it is also a mentally challenging job. While Joe says most of the calls result in a positive outcome and saving a life, there are still those that haunt him. Early in his career in 1988, he was part of a crew that responded to a fire that claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy.
“That call has defined my career and of all the ones I could help and save, that haunts me every day,” says Joe. “Every year on his birthday, I go to his gravesite to chat with him. There have been some very tragic calls that haunt me to this day and some that were great where I made a difference in someone’s life. I have people who come up to me and say ‘Thank you’ or ‘You saved me life’ and that’s a good feeling. We’re here to save lives and protect property. That’s the oath we took.”
Saving lives and protecting property for more than three decades isn’t the only way Joe has given back to the community. He has been actively involved with a number of charities, including chairing the fire department’s Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) committee for the past 25 years.
Joe and the committee have run a number of events throughout that time, raising more than $150,000 for the cause over the years. Events include an annual poker run, Tip-a-Firefighter at Chili’s, and Fill the Boot events at local restaurants.
For his efforts over the years, Joe was honored with the 2019 A. Michael Mullane Dedicated Service Award among nominations throughout the northeast, New York, and New Jersey.
“I don’t do it for the accolades, but to be recognized was nice,” says Joe. “[MDA] has been the fire department’s No. 1 charity since the “50s and when I got the job, it was part of the tradition so I started helping and it became a passion.”
In addition to being inspired by the tradition, Joe was inspired to give back to the community by his four daughters: 26-year-old Kaleigh, 25-year-old Alysha, 21-year-old Amber, and 14-year-old Brooke.
“I’ve been lucky because they’ve been very healthy, but with my job, I’ve seen how things can change in the blink of an eye,” says Joe. “It’s been tough on them because I work a lot, but they’re proud of me, helped out with different events, and even donated when I shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s.”
For the past nine years, Joe and others at the fire department have participated in head-shaving events for St. Baldrick’s to raise money for childhood cancer. Joe was captain of the team, which raised nearly $90,000 over the years.
Joe has also been involved with the East Haven Firefighters Local 1205 annual toy drive for the past 20 years, helping to provide Christmas gifts to nearly 200 children in town each year. He has served on the executive board of Local 1205 for nearly his entire career, including 10 years as president.
“We couldn’t do the toy drive without the support of the community donating toys and money and that helps so many kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas,” says Joe, who recently stepped down as president. “Since I’m getting close to retirement, I wanted to enjoy my last year on the job without the added daily stress.”
Having such a long career as a firefighter, Joe has seen many changes over the years, including nearly doubling the number of calls from when he was fire hired to now, though he has also seen a shift toward more medical calls. He attributes the shift to advances in fire preventions, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and building construction.
“When there is a fire, though, newer buildings burn a lot faster and so do the materials and furniture inside,” says Joe. “You have less time to get out of a house fire now than you ever did and that makes early detection with smoke detectors of utmost importance.”
Joe has also seen changes in how he performs his job. He remembers riding on the back of the truck with no seatbelts, which has now changed. When he first started, he remembers having only basic gear. Joe has seen the firefighters’ gear improve.
“We used to walk in with two boots, a coat, and a helmet and now you’ve got to make two trips to the car for all our gear,” says Joe. “Even though it’s all for our protection, I miss the early days.”
In Joe’s early days, he remembers that all of the “old-timers” at the department showed him the ropes and as he has advanced through his career, he has tried to be the same kind of mentor for the next generation of firefighters.
The way the firefighters work has also changed with their shifts now being 24 hours on and 72 hours off with overtime in between shifts. During the 24-hour shifts, there can be up to six hours of training and the newer firefighters spend time studying street and hydrant maps and for upcoming tests. They also take turns preparing meals and are each known for a specialty or two—Joe’s include a shrimp dish and eggplant parmigiana.
When Joe became involved in firefighting, he was the first of his family, but he wasn’t the last. Once Joe became involved when he was young, his mother took the opportunity to join the East Haven Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary. Now at 80 years old, she is still involved.
In addition to his mother, Joe’s brother Ray Kline became a volunteer with East Haven Fire Department Co. 1. His brother-in-law, Al Delucia, and his nephew, Alphonse Delucia, volunteer at Riverside Co. 6.
With his retirement approaching, Joe doesn’t plan to fully leave the firehouse culture behind. One of his hobbies is fire photography, focusing on pictures of fire trucks, firehouses, and more. He created a website to showcase his work and plans to expand it in retirement.
For now, Joe will continue to focus his efforts on giving back to the community as he has for the past 33 years.
“Our main focus is to serve the community, a community that supports us,” says Joe. “When I retire, though, the most important thing that I can be remembered for will be what I did for children’s charity.