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FDNY Firefighter Robert Thomas Retires After 40 Years, But His Sons Continue His Legacy

Despite that, Robert Thomas leaves us in good hands: his three sons will carry on the tradition – one of the FDNY’s most prominent Black legacy families.

Thomas worked his last shift at Engine Company 205/Ladder 118 in Brooklyn Heights Monday, surrounded by congratulations and hugs.

He said, “Forty-plus years. “Incredible.”


Brownsville, Brooklyn native James took the FDNY test in 1982 after his mother suggested he do so.

“She said, ‘You always wanted to be a firefighter.’ I said, ‘When did I ever say?'” he said.

Before joining New York’s Bravest, he briefly worked in insurance. It was primarily white men who worked at the Fire Department when he did. There is approximately 10 percent of Black firefighters in the department today.

He said, “Love it, love it, love it. Highly recommend it.”

Those were the words he spoke to each of his sons three times. The three sons follow in their father’s footsteps as FDNY firefighters with 22 years of experience.

Stephen Thomas said, “He always encouraged us to take the exam,” whose been with the FDNY for four years.

Nathan Thomas said, “He was always there.” He’s a nine-year veteran with the FDNY.

Jason Thomas said, “I’m proud to call him my dad.” He’s also been with the FDNY for nine years.


All agreed that they probably wouldn’t become 40-year veterans like their father. Kathleen Thomas, their proud mother and Robert’s wife said she always knew they would be New York’s Bravest.

She said, “That’s how he is. He wanted them to follow in his footsteps. He led the way. I am so proud of them.”

Robert Thomas said, “I feel hurt not to be a part of this. I told them they should grab me by the ankles and throw me out when I leave.”

He officially retires Tuesday, on his 65th Birthday.