FDNY Captain Who Lived Childhood 'Dream' Retires after 38 Years

SILive - July 04, 2018

by Joseph Ostapiuk

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Captain Robert A. Schafer "always wanted to be a fireman."

His dream came true.

Starting his career in Brooklyn, Schafer, now 62, began in the FDNY as a firefighter. He would later work at Ladder 1 in lower Manhattan as a Lieutenant.

And, most recently, Schafer was a captain at Engine 153 on Broad Street in Stapleton.

However, for Schafer, some things have remained the same, no matter where he has worked.

"The ability to help people as much as we could, no matter their condition...The ability to make somebody's life easier" was what Schafer valued throughout his career.

"When the firemen showed up, we were there to help," he said. "To make a difference."

While "the excitement, the sirens" drew Schafer to the job, the camaraderie he found along the way was something especially important to him.


Schafer said that "taking care of my crew" was always his first priority - "making sure they go home safe and healthy."

Schafer considers himself a "firm" leader, but always felt his men knew what was expected of them.

Mike Modafferi, a Westerleigh resident, worked with Schafer for more than 13 years, and said "He's (Schafer) been a great captain to me for years."

"He loves the job, the men, serving the city," Modafferi said. "Every member that works in this house respects and admires him....He's a great guy," he added.

"He's been here longer than most guys hang around on this job, and that speaks volumes about his dedication," Modafferi said, regarding Schafer's long career.

While Schafer's crew was his first priority, his home-away-from-home on Broad Street became his connection to a community he proudly served for years.


For Schafer, being close to the Stapleton community was one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

"People stop me and wave to me in the store," he said. "They come to the firehouse."

Schafer recalled on multiple occasions when members of the community would come to the firehouse to thank him and the FDNY for saving them or a loved one during a fire.

Schafer always felt the Stapleton community was "appreciative of the help" from him and his crew.

"It's fantastic," he said.

Schafer added that "The kids that have come to the firehouse on school visits," have visited him, years after their school trips to tell him about their careers.

When thinking of the times he interacted with the community and students who visited the firehouse, Schafer said he learned that "the little things make a big difference."


While Schafer's career drew to a close today, his family's name will continue in the FDNY.

Schafer's two sons, Michael and Joseph, are both firemen.

Michael works at engine 241 in Brooklyn, and Joseph works at Engine 246, in Brooklyn as well.

"I think it's great for them to follow in my footsteps," Schafer said.

"It's one of the most rewarding things a son can do for his father."

Looking forward, Schafer is getting ready to enjoy his retirement. "It's my first summer off in 40 years," Schafer said, with a chuckle.

"I'm going to enjoy the summer off," he added, "I look forward to spending time with my family."

Now, looking back at his service, Schafer said, "I would do it all again."