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Former NYC Firefighter’s Legacy Captured in Painting, Hangs in Somerset Gardens Apartment

Rich Polizo portrait

A large, emblematic painting that hangs over Rich Polizo’s bed is a time warp that epitomizes the passion, bravery, and heroism he and his fellow firefighters embodied when they were on a call, each time risking their lives.

The artwork depicts Polizo and his former crew unmistakably battling a fire, albeit the full scene is out of view. In the foreground and at the center of it all, and one of the only firefighters without a protective mask, Polizo is controlling the water hose. These distinct features of the 92-year-old, an Assisted Living resident at Somerset Gardens Senior Living in Plainview, NY, were staples throughout his career fighting fires in New York City.

Rich Polizo painting at Somerset Gardens

Looking back on some memories, he’s humble and terse, but there’s no denying the pride he has for a job that felt like home.

Rich Polizo and his family

Former NYC Firefighter Rich Polizo and his family.

Polizo grew up in Astoria in Queens and lived there, he says, “his whole life.” It’s where he met his wife and where he raised his children.

After years of working as a printer, his friend convinced him to take the test to become a fireman, and he passed. He was eventually placed at a station in the Harlem section of Manhattan; Engine 35, Ladder 14, Battalion 12, Division 5. He’d spend almost his entire career there, up until the day he retired in 1990.

Polizo says he was usually holding the water hose at the scene because he was “good at it.” And he was also able to withstand smoke without wearing a protective mask, so it was something he frequently omitted on calls.

“I was lucky,” he said, referring to the danger and the ability of breathing in smoke.

While it’s been a long time since he stepped foot in the firehouse, the brotherhood will never leave him.

Now he’s enjoying his time being a grandfather and a great-grandfather. He’s also happy and relieved to be living at Somerset Gardens.

Polizo came to the realization after “a bad fall” that he needed special care and attention, and a place that removed the responsibility of household duties.

His daughters found the best Assisted Living community for their dad, and it was their idea to display the painting over his bed.

He says it’s a pleasant reminder of the difference he made for so many people.