OTTY Honoree 2020 FDNY Captain James Grismer: A Calling Answered

A Christmas Eve rescue epitomizes 25 years of vigilance, courage and service to the community

27 Feb 2020 | 04:33

“A calling that, I don’t take lightly at all,” is how Ladder 16’s Captain James “Jim” Grismer describes his experience as a New York City firefighter. Grismer hails from a family of decorated firefighters, with his father and uncle each providing over 20 years of service to their communities.

As a 21-year-old senior at Oswego State, Grismer was unclear about his purpose in life. He recounts his moment of enlightenment. “I read a book about firefighters in the early '70s South Bronx, which happened to be a really tough time period. The stories and perspectives from that book pushed me to become what I am today.” Grismer began his career in 1995 with Ladder 13 in Yorkville, keeping that book, “Report from Engine Co. 82” by Dennis Smith, in his mind.

Grismer worked his way up to captain and is dedicated to serving the Upper East Side – “a lively neighborhood, fun to work in” – where he has spent a total of 16 years during his 25-year career.

Asked about the challenge of progressing through the ranks, he simply said, “Difficult, yet rewarding.” He then added, “I’ve always wanted to challenge myself my whole career.”

There is no greater challenge for a firefighter, and no experience more satisfying, than saving a life. Capt. Grismer recalls the “most rewarding” moment of his career. It was a calm, early morning last Christmas Eve. Grismer was unwinding, preparing to spend the day with his family, when the station received an alarm for smoke in a subway station. Shortly after, Ladder 16 confirmed that the smoke in the subway was due to an ongoing fire in a nearby building, at 400 East 56th Street.

Upon arriving at the 40-story building, Capt. Grismer, alongside firefighters Leonardo Campo and Paul Vellucci, was met by building personnel, who told him the fire originated in an apartment on the 28th floor. “It was another day on the job”, Grismer says, before further detailing the events of that morning.

“After gaining entry, we were met with high heat and clutter behind the front door while making a push inside to search for life. Upon finding the person covered by debris, we immediately cleared a path to facilitate the rescue of this individual and assist the Engine Company with advancing the hose line to extinguish the fire.” The victim, a woman in her 60s, was found unconscious with no pulse and was not breathing. Firefighters then worked with EMS personnel to safely revive her.

Grismer recalls the drive home on Christmas Eve. “It was truly a special feeling, you know, like you just saved someone’s life. It was invigorating.” He went on to enjoy the rest of his day with his wife and children.

In 25 years, Grismer has never shied away from his calling, but he enjoys time with his family. When he’s not responding to fires, he’s driving his daughter to lacrosse practice, taking his son to Boy Scouts, or teaching, courses on fire safety. Jim, which he prefers to be called is just a “busy dad” who has a passion for serving his community.

“I’ve always wanted to challenge myself my whole career.” Captain James Grismer