By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 11, 2001 at 6:56 AM

The men and women of the New York Fire Department have become heroic figures nationwide since the tragedy of Sept. 11. People everywhere are reminded of how important firemen and women are. They are not to be taken for granted.

Recently, we were lucky enough to sit down with two of them. Greg Fagan, Squad 1, Brooklyn, and Danny Baron, Engine 4, Wall St. downtown. They were in town to collect $600,000 raised locally for the Sept. 11 fund. It was given to them at halftime of the Bucks/Knicks game on Tues., Dec. 4.

These humble, kind men spoke with us about their job, the kindness of Americans, their impressions of Milwaukee and much more.

OMC: How did you guys get involved with this (coming to Milwaukee to collect the money)?

GF: I got involved because I met some of the brother firefighters back in 1998 during the 95th Harley-Davidson Anniversary party. Some of them visited us in New York, and we took care of them. And when we come out here, they take care of us. There's a bunch of great guys that I met. Dino, Spike. I don't know their real names. Good bunch of guys. No matter where you go, firemen just click in, and that's it. It works out nice.

DB: I was a fireman here before I went to New York, so that's my connection. After they did their fundraising, they wanted to have some kind of ceremony to deliver the check and they happened to know two guy's who had connections.

OMC: What are your impressions of Milwaukee?

DB: I lived here for six years and it was very easy to make my home here. It's all the good things you ever hear about the Midwest. It's clean, friendly and there's always something going on. If you're bored here, it's your own fault. We have a lot of love for Milwaukee.

GF: I came out here for the first time in '98 with three other firefighters from New York. One spot around the city here we got lost, and we got out the Harley map to try and figure out where we were going. This older gentleman, driving by in his car, saw we had the map out, so he stopped his car, got out and walked over to us. He asked us where we wanted to go, we pointed it out, and he showed us on the map. At first I thought that was unique. But later, we got lost again, pulled over and got the map out. This lady got out of her car and asked us if we needed help. And she pointed us in the right direction. People are outgoing, friendly and can't do enough for you. That's what I remember.

OMC: Do you feel that there is a newfound respect for firemen now?

DB: I don't know that there's a newfound respect as much as maybe there's a new appreciation for what firemen have always done. I don't have issues with a lack of respect. I think that we may have been taken for granted and that people didn't fully understand the commitment that firemen have. But I've never had a problem with respect.

GF: They put us on this pedestal now, but we're just regular guys. You see people out on the street and they thank you. It's always a positive thing with the fire department. Now, you walk into a building and it's a false alarm, but people are clapping and saying good job.

OMC: Has the job changed a lot for you guys since Sept. 11?

DB: It's certainly not business as usual. It's still greatly disruptive.

GF: We're doing a lot of memorial services and a lot of wakes. The guys are hanging in there, but it's a tough time. I don't know about Dan, but for me, time stopped. Sept. 11 stopped the clock. You go to work and you're like a machine. You do your job, and you're still kind of waiting for the guys to walk in the door. It's not sinking in yet. Firemen can go on vacation for three or four weeks, and you can go on vacation, so you might not see a fireman in your company for a month or so. We're still waiting for them to get off from vacation.

OMC: Everyone seems to be stressing the need to move on. Not forgetting, but getting on with your life. Is it harder to do that when you're in New York every day?

DB: People have to get on with their life. It is important that they don't forget what happened, but there's a group of people that are missing members of their family that can't get on. And they shouldn't be expected to get on or forced to get on. Business has to keep going and you can't have everything just stop and collapse. But for some people tomorrow can't come until they get some closure, so it is difficult to get on. I don't know that they're resentful of everybody else getting on, they just don't want to be dragged along with that. There's no right way to grieve.

GF: They're all coming along in their own time. As firemen, we just want to be there for people, for whatever they want and whatever they need. They know that we're only a phone call away, and whatever they need, we'll be there. That's how any fire department works.

OMC: Have you received a lot of celebrity treatment?

DB: Well, like this (interview). We're not used to this. Like Greg said, we're normal and average guys. It's like anything, and you get guys that live for this kind of stuff, and they're eating it up. And that's great and they're characters. But your average fireman isn't used to this. It's nice and very humbling to us. But there's 343 heroes in this and none of them can give an interview.

GF: Just pass the word along, so to speak.

OMC: What's it been like for you to witness the generosity of the entire nation since this happened?

GF: Overwhelming. We get bags from UPS, Federal Express and whatever mail outfit comes to the firehouse. And they're not like little packages. It's like Santa Claus coming. They're full of letters and posters. People showing their affection for you and their sorrow. Kids are signing with handprints and footprints. It's very uplifting.

DB: We've gotten things all the way from Tokyo. I can't think of a region of the country that hasn't been represented just in my firehouse. And that's happening throughout the city.

OMC: How has this affected your feelings towards both New York City and the country?

DB: My impression of being a transplant to New York is that they had a bad rap all along. If you're walking on a Manhattan street, with your map open, and you look a little confused, a New Yorker is probably going to stop and point you in the right direction. And that was prior to this. They're good people.

GF: New York was always known as the tough guy state. It's not that a New Yorker doesn't want to stop and help you. New Yorkers are like I have to get their in ten minutes and I only left myself nine. And they're going, so they'd like to stop and give you directions, but they're already a minute in the hole and they gotta go. Everybody's always rushing.

OMC: Is it hard to leave New York?

DB: It is difficult right now.

OMC: What do you have planned for the rest of your stay here?

DB: We have a luncheon today with an auction, and I'm told that it's going to be FDNY Appreciation Day, which is very nice. And then tonight the game. It feels very good to thank people for the support they've given us. It's like a weight off my chest. I've been wanting to do that and it's a benefit.