A man shares a lifetime of stories about compassion, bravery and humor.
By TERRI D. REEVES
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 2001
It was 1971 and rookie firefighter Carmine Speranza was on his first day of duty at 3 Company, a firehouse in Stamford, Conn.
Speranza, now retired and living in Tarpon Springs, recounts that day in a new book titled Captain, He Bought Eggs.
As told in the book, one of Speranza's first assignments was to get sausage, peppers, French bread for sandwiches -- and "eggs."
He was eager to please his new captain, but he returned to much confusion.
"Cap, he bought eggs."
The captain said, "He bought eggs?"
"He bought eggs." The fireman held up the evidence.
The captain exclaimed, "He bought eggs!"
Bewildered, Speranza tried to figure out what he had done wrong.
"The captain put his hand on my shoulder," Speranza recalls, "and said, "Son, when I tell you to buy a half-dozen eggs, the name of the eggs is Budweiser.' "
St. Petersburg photojournalist Beth Reynolds co-authored the book with Speranza. Her company, the Photo-Documentary Press, published it. In the book, Reynolds and Speranza show that putting out fires isn't the only thing a firefighter has to learn at a fire station.
The egg story is one in a series of 30 vignettes that make up the book. They include Speranza searching for a lost eyeball, almost losing his life and witnessing a dead dog thoughtlessly being tossed off a third-floor porch on to its horrified owner's feet. And there are moments of comic relief, such as when a group of firefighters sits at a bus stop with soda bottles in their pants trying to attract a little attention.
Speranza started his career at age 17 as a volunteer firefighter. After serving in the Army, he became a paid firefighter in 1969. He moved up the ranks and eventually became the chief fire marshal for the city of Stamford. He retired from the fire department in July 1993 and moved to Tarpon Springs with his wife, Diane.
"I really missed the job," said Speranza, 54, who volunteers for the American Red Cross in his free time now. "I always wanted to write a book about my career but just didn't have the resources."
Then, in January, while chaperoning at a camp for severely burned children, he met Reynolds, 35. As he shared his stories about being a firefighter with the children, Reynolds knew she had found her next book project.
"His stories were so interesting and funny," she said. "I learned that firefighters are incredibly amazing human beings."
Reynolds had previously published another book, Sisters of Courage: Survivors of Breast and Cervical Cancer. She pitched the idea of the book to Speranza and a partnership was born.
He talked and she fashioned the yarns into stories. She also secured about $30,000 to $35,000 in bank financing to cover the costs of printing, marketing, editing, travel and film. This summer the two traveled to Stamford where she shot the photos for the book. It recalls his first 10 years of his 24-year career.
"The book took thousands of hours," she said. "We made a conscious choice to make it an upscale, fine art, coffee table book."
The varnished black-and-white photos don't depict burning buildings or firefighters carrying children from smoldering rubble. To the contrary, the two decided on a low-key, retrospective approach that revisits the old neighborhoods and firehouses.
"I wanted to share what it was like to be a fireman," said Speranza. "To be a firefighter is a great honor. I feel it's the greatest job in the world."
In its first limited edition, 5,000 copies of the books were printed and Reynolds estimates they will have to sell half before they start to see any profit. They recently attended a book-signing in Stamford and have another planned at the Arts Center in St. Petersburg from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 9 during the center's Family Day celebration. A firetruck will be part of the event.
It is a coincidence that the book is coming out at a time when firefighters and other rescue workers are being celebrated as heroes.
"We hope to be part of the healing process," Reynolds said. "We hope that people will read and share the book and realize how much firefighters give."
The book sells for $25 and can be purchased at the Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., in St. Petersburg or ordered at any bookstore or from www.photodocumentarypress.com.