In the midst of one of the greatest crises New York City has seen in decades, a group of Big Apple firefighters took a well-deserved break to wish one of their finest — and oldest — a very happy birthday. Retired smoke eater Wilbur Hutchins turned 99 on April 3rd, and members of the FDNY were determined to give him a proper celebration, even if it meant adjusting their plans to fit the rules of social distancing. So they surprised him at his house in Queens, singing and saluting him from the safety of their trucks on the street.

“It was very, very emotional for a few moments because it brought back the years ago when I was a younger fireman,” said Hutchins about the heartwarming scene. “It was a real pleasant surprise.” Organizer Ishan Scott, 46, who retired from the FDNY last year, said the gesture was equally touching for the 15 or so firefighters who took time out of their busy day to honor Hutchins.

“It was probably the easiest thing to organize, because we all know as firefighters we are constantly seeing death and all dealing with our own personal mourning, so to find something positive inspired us all to not wait.” “A lot of guys are doing the best they can, they’re going on calls and they’re seeing death in numbers that they’ve never seen before. There’s no telling right now what the post-traumatic affect may be,” said Scott, emphasizing that being able to celebrate Hutchins’ birthday was a welcome boost for everyone involved. “We’ve done something to prove that there is some grace in the world and there is some positivity. Just a small gesture in times like this can mean a lot.”

Hutchins started his FDNY career at at Engine 217 in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and then moved to Engine 317 in St. Albans, Queens. In his 27 years of service, he worked to pave the way for more diversity within the profession, supporting efforts to allow women to join and being a role model as a pioneer black firefighter.

“Because of men and women like him, we are able to do the job that we love,” said Scott. Hutchins currently lives with his wife Daisy, who is five years younger, and credits his longevity to decades of happy marriage. “We are approaching our 49th anniversary, and we are hoping to make it to 50 next year,” said Hutchins, who has outlived three of his four children. Two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren make up the rest of the family, although they don’t live close by.

While he is looking forward to those future plans, Hutchins just tries to take things one day at a time. “The way this world is churning right now, you’re just blessed to be here from day to day. Life never guarantees anything,” he said.

– Courtesy of Daily News

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