Decorated FDNY Captain Marks 90th Birthday with Virtual Wishes, Hugs and Fond Memories - May 08, 2020

by Carol Ann Benanti

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When retired FDNY Capt. Thomas Bonamo turns 90 May 13, his wife Arlene and her family, and his daughter-in-law Carole, will celebrate the man of the hour and offer their love and good wishes as he enters his ninth decade.

And because Capt. Bonamo’s big birthday celebration had to be cancelled and put on hold, special congratulatory greetings will arrive virtually from his one and only granddaughter, Marina, her husband Bobby and his great-granddaughter, Olivia. Sadly, Capt. Bonamo’s two sons, Stephen and Paul, are now deceased.


Born and raised in a home built by his dad, Thomas Sr., on Alden Plce in New Brighton, the family’s dwelling was next to a large wooded area known as Jones Woods.

At age 14, Bonamo’s first job was as a lifeguard at the Goodhue Baby Pool in Randall Manor. At 17, he became a lifeguard for the city Parks Department. And before long, he was promoted to chief guard at Great Kills Park.

Thomas graduated from Curtis High School in 1948, where he was member of the swim team and played football on the city championship team under the famed Coach Andy Barbieri. He also was a charter member of the Curtis High School Block "C" Club.

While in his senior year he attended a lecture at Columbia University where he met the Jacques Cousteau, the French naval officer who studied the sea and all forms of life in water — and the person from whom he would buy his first diving lesson.

While attending Wagner College, Thomas shared his love of the water as a swimming instructor for the former city Board of Education at the Curtis High School Community Center.

From 1950 to 1954, he donated time and skills to the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City on Staten Island, providing hydrotherapy sessions to children afflicted with the disease that causes movement disorders.

He organized and ran a YMCA aquatic program on Staten Island prior to the building of a Staten Island “Y,” and became the “Y’s” first aquatic director.

Thomas was appointed a firefighter in October 1954 and within four years qualified as chauffeur-pump operator at Engine Company 31.

Through the years he assisted in rescue and recovery services and received citations for his diving skills.

In 1960, Thomas was accepted as a member of Rescue Company 1.

Along with firefighting, rescue and first aid duties, Thomas trained other firefighters in the proper use of breathing equipment and first aid. And when the Fire Department organized a pilot Emergency Medical Technician Program, Lt. Bonamo -- at the time — became one of the first to volunteer as an instructor, helping to train more than 200 firemen as EMTs.

n 1969/1970 he was assigned to the Fire Department’s Probations School, and later in1974, was named the Chamber of Commerce “Civil Servant of the Year.”

Happy 90th birthday, Capt. Bonamo and congratulations to you and Arlene on your 65th wedding anniversary in July.