Jim Grismer is a retired firefighter who has put in 63 years of service between Georgia and New York. He also served in the New York National Guard and had a hand in the planning of the building operations at the World Trade Center. This year’s Veterans Day Parade’s theme is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and he will be leading the parade as Grand Marshal.
Sixty-three years of service as a first responder is a long time! Walk me through your career.
I was born on Long Island but grew up on a potato farm in New Hyde Park. My dad was a Fire Chief and my uncles were in the fire department as well. So, the day I turned 18 I joined the New York Garden City Park volunteer fire department and I spent 11 years there. In that time frame I got married, moved out to Lynbrook New York and served as a firefighter there for 34 years. When I retired, I moved to Georgia and started working at Southside Fire Department which became Chatham Emergency Services Department.
I’m also a graduate of the University of Georgia and I’ve served in the New York National Guard in the 69th Infantry regiment of Civil War and World War I. I spent most of my time there with civil disobedience and riots in some of the Brooklyn and Queens areas. I was honorably discharged at the rank of Platoon Sergeant. I also had a hand in the planning of the building operations at the World Trade Center.
This year I’m celebrating 46 years with the American Legion in New York! I was also the past commander of the Bull Street Legion Post 135. I enjoy devoting my time to helping Veterans in any way.
Can you tell me more about your role with the World Trade Center
I had a long career with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In the late 60s they started a huge project called the World Trade Center. I worked on the planning of the building operations, how we were going to maintain it from housekeeping to electrical, mechanical, structural, security...and ultimately headed up all of those disciplines. By the time I retired I had spent time in both the skilled trade oversight and the general operation stuff.
Well that’s certainly something to be proud of! I’m sure you have several other proud moments during your time as a first responder. Tell me about one that sticks out in your mind.
Well, I’ve received several medals from rescues. One was for an explosion that took down a building. At the time, I happened to be one block away from it so I rushed toward the explosion and there was fire coming out of the first floor of the restaurant. I remember I could see two men serving from behind a stainless steel buffet counter laying on the floor. I grabbed one of the guys and pulled him away from some of the debri. With the help of two other firefighters we were able to clear the building. It was a proud moment.
Were you afraid, or were you just running on adrenaline?
No, it’s kinda strange. It’s like men who are young and jump out of airplanes...you have to be kinda stupid. (laughs) They haven’t lived long enough to fear things. So, I guess that’s where I was at.
I know you have two sons who have carried on the legacy and are both New York City firefighters, were they on duty on 9/11?
Yes, one of my sons was actually finishing up his shift and on his way home when the first plane hit the towers. At the time he lived about two hours north of New York City and he wasn’t aware of anything that was going on until he got home from work that day. When he got home my wife was calling him to make sure that he was okay but she didn’t tell him what was going on. She just told him to turn on the television. He was standing in the living room looking at the TV when the second plane hit so he jumped in the car without even thinking about it and drove 100 miles per hour on the New York freeway just to get back to the city.
My other son at that time wasn’t a firefighter, he was a New York City police officer. They had him at the top of the hole where the trucks were coming and they were washing them down with hoses to get the dust down. So he was in the clouds of that crap, and had really severe respiratory issues and he’s out on one-hundred percent disability from injuries sustained from that day. He’s okay now but he can’t be a firefighter anymore.
It was a horrific tragedy and we lost around 343 people, 87 plus of those were co-workers. We have a reunion of the people who operated the World Trade Center every year and all of us pledge to be there unless we’re severely disabled or dead. And so far, we’ve been successful every year besides last.
Besides saving lives and helping Veterans, what else are you passionate about?
One thing I really treasure now is my input and effort that I put toward the B-17 Flying Fortress “City of Savannah” at the Air Force Museum. That thing is in mint condition, it’s combat ready and it looks like it’s going to Berlin to drop bombs! All the radio equipment is authentic and in place down to the oxygen bottles. No other restored bomber in the world has all its tourettes operating.
I also enjoy following Georgia football and I had Bulldog season tickets for 15 years. Go Dawgs!