June 2, 2002

Sean S. Hanley: A Joker With Heart

Inside the Ladder Company 20 firehouse, Sean S. Hanley yells: "Mike Hopkins, house phone!" Firefighter Hopkins picks up the receiver and says hello. There's no one on the line, but a big glop of shaving cream, concealed in the earpiece, now covers the side of his head. Through it, he can hear Sean Hanley laughing.

At the annual "Tough Man" boxing match between the Police Department and the Fire Department, Firefighter Hanley, summoned to the ring at the last minute, jabs his way to victory.

And here's a parade of beautiful women passing the firehouse. They all know Firefighter Hanley, 35. His colleagues complain about having to wait for his leftovers. Hammering together an improved house-watch area, he just laughs.

He was Patricia and Gerald Hanley's third son, a New Yorker, and a fearless fireman in a family thick with them. His father, brother and one grandfather all retired from the department; his other grandfather was killed on the job before his probie year was out.

On her 60th birthday, Firefighter Hanley's mother got a bouquet of 60 roses from him. And when his brother Gerry mentioned not long ago that his child-care arrangements had fallen through, he said he'd help. It didn't matter that at the time he was sitting in a plane on the runway, about to take off for a vacation in Las Vegas.

"Sean got off the plane and said he would watch the kids," his mother said. Las Vegas, he figured, could wait.