Union Square When members of the New York City Fire Department hear their firehouse alarms go off, they know exactly what to expect: they suit up and rush out to what often are unpredictable and life-threatening situations.
For the past few months, members of the FDNY Bravest Boxing Team have been training for another kind of bell, with its own kind of peril: they'll be entering the ring in front of hundreds of people at Webster Hall to square off against members of Ireland's Garda Boxing Club.
Funds raised during the Thursday, March 6, tournament will benefit Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that builds handicap-accessible homes for military veterans wounded in combat.
Unlike professional boxers, fighters from New York's Bravest have only a short time to prepare for an opponent they know little, if anything about. They have two training sessions a week? led by club president Bobby McGuire and trainer Mike Reno ? that often come after 24-hour shifts and at the expense of family time.
Julio Padilla, 31, has spent six years with the FDNY and also works as a paramedic at two area hospitals. He said that boxing for the department is so appealing because of the way firefighters stick together through any situation, whether it be training for a fight or trying to put out a five-alarm fire.
"As soon as you go into that ring and hear your first bell your heart is pounding," he said. "We're walking into that building exactly the same way, with a heart pounding and adrenaline flowing...Coming in here with all your brothers is exactly the same thing as the firehouse and going into a fire, all of your brothers want to come together."
That camaraderie can be attributed to the intense training regimen that both the boxers and average firefighters endure. It's nearly impossible to anticipate what to expect in an opponent, just as it's impossible to know what's waiting on the other side of a burning door.
It makes sense, then, that they try to minimize the number of factors that could go wrong. Joshua Gallo is a firefighter from Long Island City, Queens who inherited his father's love of boxing. A four-year Army veteran, he said the only way to avoid being hurt or humiliated is to prepare.
"You always have that uncertainty no matter how you try to portray it," Gallo said. "Within seconds you could say, 'Will this building collapse?' or 'Is this too hot?' It's the same thing as 'Am I throwing a right hook?' You plan for everything and nothing."
The boxing club was born in the early 1980s, when city officials tried to raise extra money by pitting five firefighters against five officers from the NYPD. That event turned into a rivalry that's revisited every year at Madison Square Garden and has become a bit of a sore spot for the firemen, who aren't quite over their loss on the big stage last November.
"We had three years in a row where we won, then we had a draw, and then last year we lost," said trainer Mike Reno. "We're on a little bit of a slide but there is definitely a rivalry between the fire department and the cops."
The event with the NYPD eventually led to an international partnership between the FDNY and the Garda Club, made up of Irish National Police and Dublin Fire Brigade.
The Bravest Boxing Team has helped raise over $50,000 for local veterans over the years. Much of that money has gone to Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that recently built an entirely new Staten Island home to suit the needs of a veteran who became a quadruple amputee because of injuries sustained in Iraq.
The FDNY boxers admitted that it can be tough to spend all night at the fire house only to wake up the next morning and spend hours training. The department's ties to veterans group, though, serve as an important reminder to keep everything in perspective.
"You just have to train and be ready for anything and try to prepare for the worst," said David Leonard, a father of three who works at the Tribeca firehouse where "Ghostbusters" was filmed. "These guys are giving up their lives out there so we're hardly giving up anything compared to what they give."
Tickets are sold on a general admission, first-come first-served basis. They are available for $25.00 on www.FDNYboxing.Eventbrite.com or at the door on March 6.