(Bridgeport, CT – June 28, 2013) — Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Porzelt retired Friday after 36 years on the Bridgeport Fire Department.
In his three-and-a-half decades, he saved lives, witnessed death, responded to some of the city’s largest catastrophes — and had a hard time retiring.
“He’s a good friend and a better firefighter,” said Fire Chief Brian Rooney. “He served this city well for a very long time.”
Porzelt joined the department in 1976 after spending six years with the Bridgeport Board of Education as a plumber and welder. He applied for the fire job on a whim. He knew a few firefighters who loved the job.
It was a different era, he said. Today, firefighters spend four months at the training academy. Back then, it was a week, and three of those days felt like signing papers identifying his beneficiary if he got killed, he said.
His first night, he responded to three working fires. The rule for rookies was to follow a veteran and learn. It literally was baptism by fire. He was hooked, even though the department still had opened roof engines and firefighters resorted, on the coldest days, to opening the engine hood and warm numb fingers near the engine block.
A few fires and tragedies stood out. There was the general alarm fire at Nathan Schwarz and Son on East Washington Street. The fire burned out of control all night, fueled by thousands of Sterno cans, the fuel-filled tins used by restaurants to heat food in chafing dishes. A wall collapsed and fell on the department’s newest truck.
Then on April 23, 1987, Porzelt had just arrived for his shift, and found the firehouse empty. He looked out the window and saw a huge cloud of dust hovering over downtown. He drove his personal car to L’Ambiance Plaza, and started digging by hand through the rubble of the collapsed building. Twenty-eight people died.
He lost seven colleagues in line-of-duty deaths during his career.
“You see some really bad things. It’s tough to forget it but you try,” he said.
What he’ll miss most: “The guys. It’s like the Band of Brothers. We eat together. We cry together, go to baseball games together. Everyone’s got a different story. I’ll miss the guys most, and then the job,” said Porzelt.
“My wife asked a few times over the years, ‘you’re young, you’re still healthy,” he said. “But you love the job so much and the guys you work with so much that you just can’t leave.”