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This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Steve Buscemi was 22, he was a firefighter assigned to work at Manhattan’s Engine House 55 in Little Italy. “I really loved firefighting,” says the Boardwalk Empire star, now 56. “The only reason I left was that I loved acting more.” But after 9/11, Buscemi reconnected with his old comrades, doing what he could to assist families of the 343 firefighters who died that day.
“I hate the reason I’ve been reconnected to the job, but I’m so grateful I am,” he says. As an advisory board member of the Brooklyn-based Friends of Firefighters, he donates his time to such causes as attending Mass and family lunch for the 2nd Battalion on 9/11 anniversaries and participating in a bone marrow drive for a 2-year-old child of a Williamsburg firefighter. He’s also doing his part onscreen, appearing in the HBO documentary A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY, which premieres Sept. 8.
Denis Leary, 56, has his own reasons for being drawn to firefighters. His cousin, Jerry Lucey, was killed while battling a 1999 blaze in Worcester, Mass. To help his cousin’s engine house, the actor started The Leary Firefighters Foundation in 2000, which has raised $10 million for such projects as a new fire-response unit in central Massachusetts. After 9/11, the foundation started The Fund for New York’s Bravest, raising $1.9 million for surviving families. He, too, has done his part onscreen, starring for seven years on Rescue Me, the firefighter drama he co-created for FX.
“Firefighters never go on strike, so they’re always at the bottom of the list for funding,” says Leary, who continues to help firehouses from New Orleans to Detroit to Los Angeles acquire resources. “I’d love nothing more than to go out of business because firefighters had everything they needed.”
Aug. 14, 10:05 Updated with clarification on Steve Buscemi’s volunteer efforts.
Click to find out more about Friends of Firefighters and The Leary Firefighters Foundation and make a donation.
Read more from THR’s Philanthropy Issue here.
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