OCTOBER 5, 2017 – Jews have a long history of working for area fire departments, and Ed Seligman has served as a Swampscott firefighter and lieutenant since 2001. A Swampscott native, he is also a logistics team manager for the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System (MA-TF1 in Beverly). Over the years, he has worked during national disasters, heading off to support rescue missions at the World Trade Center, and during hurricanes such as Sandy, and most recently, Harvey, in Texas. He has two daughters, and lives in Swampscott with his wife Donna.
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How was it to grow up in Swampscott during the 1960s and ’70s?
I’m a good Jewish boy from Swampscott. My father managed a lumberyard and worked at several credit unions in Lynn and Salem, and my mom worked as an office manager for a printing company in Lynn. My father was very involved in Temple Beth El in Lynn, and I went to the Hebrew School there. I also had two role models at the temple, Cantor Morton Shanok, and Dr. Sheldon Brown, who was the Hebrew School principal. I worked at Camp Rotary as a counselor in Boxford, during the summers. I learned people skills there. I also worked at the JCC, and taught swimming and lifeguarded in Marblehead.
You didn’t become a firefighter until 2001; what did you do before that?
I’m 62 now, but I always had an interest in helping people. In 1978, I volunteered during the Blizzard of ’78. I had a four-wheel drive vehicle, and I helped transport nurses to the hospital for work. I was in insurance claims for 20 years; I was a supervisor. I was in inside management for years and then became an auto appraiser.
When did you decide to become a firefighter?
When I was in my late teens, I realized that I was interested in fire fighting. I eventually took the civil service exam, but there was not a lot of turnover in the fire service. When I was 46, in 2001, I got hired in Swampscott. But I started in Civil Defense in Beverly in 1981 as a volunteer, for a group that provides emergency services. We’d provide lighting at fires, help with searches in the community, and also provide support for the police and fire.
Since then, you’ve responded to many disasters across the US.
Yes. I’m also the logistics team manager for the Massachusetts Task Force 1, which is part of the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. I’ve probably gone to 20 events over the years, including 9/11. I recently spent two weeks in Texas for Hurricane Harvey. At Harvey we used some schools in the city of Katy and set up a camp for 1,000 rescuers, and we brought in showers, food vendors to provide meals, and laundry services so the guys could wash their clothes. It was one of the days I went 30 hours plus without sleep.
I also went to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and was in New York for Hurricane Sandy. Our team is made up of doctors, structural engineers, search dogs, technical information specialists, hazmat technicians, rescue specialists, logistic specialists and communications people.
On 9/11, we arrived at the Jacob Javits Center in New York at 11 p.m. I worked 20-hour days and I didn’t see the light of day until Friday morning. That day I went to ground zero. I just saw the devastation.
What’s it like to be a firefighter?
I enjoy the job, the camaraderie, and being able to help people gives me a good feeling. I’ve always been someone who likes to help. The fire service is a brotherhood, it’s a job of honor. I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to do the job, that’s how I look at it. In Swampscott if I go to a call and I know the person, sometimes I’ll put them at ease. It’s very rewarding. The most important part of the job is life safety, whether it’s the safety of my coworkers, or the people. We are there to help.
I’m a lieutenant and am responsible for the ladder company. There are two or three firefighters who go out with the ladder. The ladder is involved in forceful entry, car and house lock-outs, carbon monoxide or smoke detector alarm issues, or a water-related problem. We also respond to all fire calls and auto accidents in addition to many other emergencies. I’ve done CPR on people, I’ve been to car accidents, slip and fall accidents, and been there when people have passed away.
You always have to be ready and be 100 percent on your game. When you sleep it is with an ear open. We do two 24 hour shifts every 8 days. I start my shift at 7:00 a.m. I carry about 50 pounds when we go out: an air pack/tank, boots, pants, coat, hood, helmet, gloves, and facemask. The air supply is good for about 20 minutes. The snow and the cold can be a challenge, and in the summer it’s rough. The suit is warm, and it’s insulated to protect you from the heat so it doesn’t breathe very well. In the summer it’s harder to fight a fire since it’s so hot already.
You went to Israel in 2015. How was your trip?
I went with the Lappin Foundation and it was awesome. I was relaxed there. I didn’t have to plan anything. I did get to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem with my cousins. There were three generations of family there from my mother’s side, and I hadn’t seen them in a long time. We had a Shabbat dinner with my family, who are educators. It was very moving.