Steve Buscemi Was a Firefighter Before He Was an Actor–on 9/11 He Signed Back up To Search for Survivors

Steve Buscemi is known as one of Hollywood’s great character actors. But before he was an actor, he was a firefighter in New York. When his acting career started picking up he left his post at the fire department. Then on 9/12/2001, he returned to his old position.

Steve Buscemi poses with his award for Best Actor in a Television Series (Drama) for "Boardwalk Empire" in the press room at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards
Steve Buscemi | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Steve Buscemi the firefighter

From 1980 to 1984, when he was in his early 20s, Buscemi fought fires in Little Italy at 363 Broome Street in downtown Manhattan. The actor was part of the engine company after taking the civil service test a few years prior.

“It’s very chaotic. There’s lots of noises, you hear glass being broken, you have a mask on so you can’t really see a lot,” Buscemi told CBS of his time as a firefighter in New York. “It’s very hard to describe but all your senses are going. Your adrenaline is pumping and your mind is trying to stay focused.”

Buscemi says he was nervous as a young firefighter.

“I was, like, the quietest guy in the firehouse for a long time,” he said.

The firefighter-turned-actor went on to say that it was a difficult job, but made easier by the people he worked with.

“It’s all about bringing in a hose and putting water on the fire,” he said. “You know when you have a job a few blocks away because there’s a certain smell. It always helps that you have people surrounding you that help you through it.”

For a while, Buscemi pursued his acting career while simultaneously fighting fires. But after he got his role in 1986’s Parting Glances, he became an actor full-time.

The day after 9/11, Steve Buscemi rejoined his old company in New York

Though it had been years since Buscemi donned his flame-resistant uniform, the day after 9/11/2001, the actor returned to his unit. He worked 12-hour-days for a week aiding his fellow firefighters, four of whom lost their lives to the tragedy, search for survivors and carry away the dead.

In total, almost 3,000 lives were lost, 343 of which were firefighters.

Other times Steve Buscemi ditched Hollywood to return to his role as a firefighter

Buscemi didn’t suit up just when tragedy struck on 9/11. Through the years, he’s helped where he could. In 2003, he was arrested at a union rally to protest for more pay and against fire station closures. In 2012, he re-joined the FDNY to help with clean-up after Hurrican Sandy.

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In 2014, Buscemi produced a documentary called A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY. But, overall, he’s been pretty quiet about his involvement with the FDNY since his time as a firefighter in his early 20s.

It was only when someone wrote on the Brotherhood of Fire Facebook page about Buscemi’s involvement with the department that people realized how he helped after 9/11.

“He wasn’t there for the publicity,” wrote Jonathan Lusk. “Once a brother, always a brother!”