Firefighter’s cookbook raises money for NYFD scholarships

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A retired Bellerose firefighter has found a new audience for his cookbook following the Sept. 11 tragedy. Ironically enough, it was his own personal tragedy that inspired the book in the first place.

John Sineno spent his career with the New York Fire Department working out of the Engine 58, Ladder 26 station on 5th Avenue in Harlem. As the years went by, the firefighter family he belonged to grew, as did his own.

Whether he was at home or in the firehouse, there was always one thing in common - the family would gather around the kitchen table to eat together.

“The kitchen has always been the hub of any house,” Sineno said in an interview last month. “Think about it. Where does the family meet and talk together? It’s always around the kitchen table.”

Families share recipes, many of which are handed down from generation to generation, and firefighters are an international brotherhood. So it only seemed natural that somebody should put together a book with firefighter recipes. That’s exactly what Sineno did in 1986, with the original “Firefighters’ Cookbook,” which landed itself on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Money raised from sales of the book went to the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center at 68th and York Streets in Manhattan.

As the years passed, sales kept booming and interest in the book was growing around the country - and around the world. Firefighters from as far as Rome, Italy, were sending their recipes for what they hoped would be a new edition of the bestseller.

But Sineno was trying to cope with his own problems, and didn’t have time to focus on the book. Just three week’s before his daughter’s wedding in June 1988, Sineno’s son Thomas committed suicide.

On the unseasonably warm February day that would have been his son’s 35th birthday, Sineno still showed a face full of emotion as he described his feelings from 14 years earlier.

“Everything is so complicated today,” he said. “This is a very complicated world we live in, and I understand how that can be confusing for kids these days.”

Though the tragedy pulled at the very fabric of his family, it also drew them closer together. Over the years, and with the help of his firefighter family, Sineno was able to transform his grief into a way to help other young adults find direction.

“If you’re in a working class family, you have to hock your house to send your kids to school,” he said. “That’s just not right.”

So when his thoughts again turned to the cookbook, he knew that its dedication was going to be different. The second time around, “The New Firefighter’s Cookbook” was devoted to raising money for the Fraternal Order of Firefighters Scholarship Fund, which helps firefighters from all backgrounds send their children to college.

Sineno said, “There was one guy whose daughter wanted to be a veterinarian,” but her family couldn’t afford to send her to school on their own. With help from the scholarship fund she is now in school.

“If kids can get that little bit of help, a push in the right direction, that could make all the difference,” he added.

Sineno realized that there is considerably more demand for scholarships than money available. With his personal tragedy in mind, he decided that anything that could give young adults the direction they need to help answer the questions life poses, had to be the right recipient for the money raised by the new book.

“There are so many fatherless kids, so many widows out there,” Sineno said. “When I can give them the money, it is from the family, for the family and to the family.”

The new edition of the book was released in 1996, and has sold well, but sales took off again after Sept. 11.

And so did Sineno.

Though he retired in 1994 after 26 years of service to the NYFD, and a total of 38 years of working for New York City, Sineno still gives his time to help. When a fire station in Yorkville had lost nine firefighters in the World Trade Center, Sineno went in to take care of them.

“I go back to cook, and to help ease the pressure,” he said.

Affectionately known as “Mama Sineno,” he has brought calm and culinary delights to firefighters all over the city.

The cookbook stands as a tribute to the unity of firefighters. Recipes come from members and officers of dozens of New York fire companies, but there are also far-reaching members of the extended firefighter family represented from Salem, Mass., Bonita, Calif., Boston, Mass., Cincinnati, Ohio, Oneonta, N.Y., Madison Heights, Va., Brandon, Fla. and Des Moines, Iowa.

But perhaps the most intriguing recipe of all is “Recipe for a Firefighter,” written in honor of Capt. James F. McDonnell. The ingredients are active play, humor, wisdom, endurance, strength, humility, courage and patience - all glazed with love.

“It is this glaze of love for human life that makes them what they are. The love that makes them stand and risk life, health and security for strangers until their job is done, and they hear these precious words: ‘Well done - good and faithful servant,’” wrote the recipe’s author Betty Lines.

“The New Firefighter’s Cookbook” is published by Fireside Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and is available in bookstores everywhere.

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