LIFE OR DEATH DECISION
I first met Police Officer Bruce Struthers
back in 1974. I was a Sergeant assigned to the 120th Precinct. Bruce was fresh out of the Police Academy and was assigned to my squad. After he completed his probationary period in the 120th Precinct, he was transferred to the 7th Precinct in Manhattan to do his time in a high crime precinct. They had designated certain commands as “high-crime” precincts and all new police officers were mandated to work at least 5 years on patrol in such precincts. I lost touch with him until he returned to the 120th Precinct in later years. We served again together in the 120th Precinct duing the 1980s.
PO Bruce Struthers, 120th Precinct on Ferry Detail
Many cops are reluctant to discuss their past experiences. They do not want to appear to be overstating their role in incidents that required them to be courageous. They are modest in their
appraisals of their behavior under trying and dangerous conditions. During our years of policing together, I would talk with PO Struthers on many occasions. During those times, when his guard
was down, he would speak about an incident in his life before he came on “The Job”. As a young man, had been employed as a steamfitter and was working on a new aircraft carrier in the old
Brooklyn Navy Yard. In his own words, this is a brief account of his actions back in 1960.
However, before we read his modest account, we should view a news account of the incident that is still available on YouTube
. The newsreel reports on the December 16, 1960 collision of two airliners and then covers the December 19, 1960 fire on the USS Constellation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard drydock:
NEWSREEL OF BOTH THE AIR DISASTER AND FIRE ON CONSTELLATION
“ In December, 1960 I got a job as a helper pipe fitter in the Brooklyn navy yard in Brooklyn, NY. My father, Robert Struthers, was the assistant head of the pipe shop were I worked, and had me
assigned to work on the USS Constellation aircraft carrier
being constructed. I installed refrigeration and piping lines throughout the ship. The ship was about to proceed out in several days on trial runs.
On December 19, 1960 I was on the hanger deck of the ship retrieving tools when a forklift truck hit a cup link connecting to a tank filled with a kerosene and gasoline mixture feeding fuel to the engine
room below deck. My father had once informed me prior to the incident that that was the purpose of the tank.
When the cup link was severed from the tank the mixture poured out onto the main deck, and then
continued seeping through to the decks below. Knowing the severity of the situation and knowing that the liquid wasn’t water, I ran to the second deck to inform my uncle, who was a boss, about the
situation at hand. Once I got to the second deck, the smoke from the mixture that was starting a fire was so severe I had to turn and get out. When I turned, I came into contact with someone who was
lying on the deck. I saw that it was a small man who had been a spot welder on the ship, I picked him up and got to the main deck at which time someone was passing by who knew me, took him from me and said “Get up to the flight deck before the fire gets worse.” As I turned to go up to the
flight deck, I noticed the fire alarm box that read, “Pulling a false alarm is punishable by 5 years in prison or a 5,000 dollar fine.” Knowing the severity of the fire, I pulled the alarm and proceeded to
the flight deck. On the flight deck the fire was raging through the center of the ship and there was no exit possible.
Fire engines were coming into the ship yard from all angles, but it seemed there was no way to get
off the ship. Seeing this, I thought that I might die there. Looking out over the side of the flight deck, I saw an open area of water between the dock and the ship. I got up on the railing and jumped
over the side plummeting into the water. I was told later that I was “fished out” by someone on the dock and taken to Sick Bay to be looked at. From Sick Bay I walked to the pipe shop next store
where my father was. I informed him of what had happened and he sent me home. About a week after the incident, my father informed me that naval officers were going to come and interview me at
home. They were coming because a crew member saw me pull the alarm and notified investigators who I was. I was interviewed and presented with a commendation from the naval department for
bravery. I subsequently returned to help in the rebuilding of the USS Constellation. I was told later that 48 men had perished in the fire and without the alarm being signaled the death toll could have
been much worse.
Years later, I took the test for Patrolman, PD. I was assigned to the 120 Precinct in 1974 and later assigned to the 7th Precinct in Manhattan to the first latent fingerprint unit for several years before
returning to the 120 Precinct and retiring from there.”
Police Officer Bruce Struthers has been retired for years now and he is active as a member of the
NYC Verrazano 10-13 Association. He and I attended a recent meeting of the Association and we reminisced about his exploits when he was a young man. It must also be said that PO Struthers was
a good street cop too. He served with honor during his career with the NYPD.
LtoR: PO Bruce Struthers, NYPD (ret) and Captain Ed Reuss, NYPD (Ret)
Photo by NY Cop Online Magazine March 16, 2011
Copyright © 2011 Edward D. Reuss
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