Retired 'New York's Bravest' Graduates From York

Michael D'Amico had passed York College countless times on his way to work as a firefighter stationed in South Jamaica; so when he retired four years ago, higher education beckoned and he chose York for his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education (PE).

On May 29, D’Amico, 44, will march into the graduation tent, a proud member of the Class of 2009. But he will do more than merely graduate. He will do so with high honors -- a GPA he expects to be in the 3.7s when this semester’s grades have been tallied.

Inspired by his wife’s teaching career, the retired firefighter once stationed at Ladder Company 126, first earned an associates degree in liberal arts at Nassau Community College right before coming to York.

After “four full semesters plus summer and winter sessions,” D’Amico says he looks forward to the challenge of serving New York in this new and exciting capacity as a PE teacher.

“After I retired, I did some construction work to keep busy,” said D’Amico, who spent more than two weeks at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11. “But after working all my life with my hands, I really wanted to do something for my head and I wanted to make a difference.”

But he had already made a difference serving in a fire precinct he said was, “one of the busiest in New York City.” It was his ideal job while it lasted.

Proving [William] Wordsworth’s assertion that “the child is father of the man,” D’Amico recalled that as a child he dreamed of being a firefighter; so when he became an adult he fulfilled the mission by becoming the fireman of his dreams.

“School wasn’t my passion,” he said. “So after graduating from high school I joined the [New York] Fire Department (FDNY). The Fire Department really makes a man of you. If you want something you have to work for it.”

And despite the exciting new challenges that await him in teaching, the father of two young children says he still misses the brotherhood of firefighters.

“I miss my brothers,” said D’Amico, who recalls arriving at Ground Zero on 9/11 “just as Building 7 collapsed.” 

And the memory of fires fought and friendships forged, lingers. “Every time I hear of a fire I still feel a twinge,” he said softly. Everyday it was like a magnet. You had to be there.”

The newly-minted K through 12 teacher explained that the entire crew of dedicated people at Ground Zero, “got that million miles stare,” that follows traumatic events; but if he had it to do all over again he would not hesitate.

“If it happened today I’d have to be there,” he said matter-of-factly, with a far off look.  “I couldn’t not, be there…as a person…as an American…I’d have to be there.”

Dr. Denise Agin, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Gerontological Studies & Services, sings D’Amico’s praises not just for his scholarship, but for his service with the FDNY.

“He is a true American hero,” she said without fear of sounding hyperbolic. “I felt he should be recognized….”

Asked what the most valuable thing about his York experience has been, D’Amico responded without hesitation.

“The diversity,” he said. “I always found myself (in) culturally diverse (situations) and York is very diverse. And the education was great, too, especially in the sciences. I learned a lot.”

In fact, D’Amico liked the York experience so much he has already recommended the College and the PE program to his nephew, a Howard Beach resident preparing to graduate from high school.

“I told him,” D’Amico said, “You’re going to get a very good education here.”  Clearly, the uncle did.

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