FDNY Battalion Chief Orlence Orvis was forced to retire in 1976 when a roof collapsed on him during a rescue attempt, paralyzing one side of his body.
Now 95 years old, Orvis has recovered and on Monday celebrated his title as the oldest living battalion chief.
Orvis started fighting fires after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. The Queens Village resident served in the 44th Battalion, based in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn and known as one of the busiest.
“He’s completely obsessed with the fire department, still to this day,” said his granddaughter, Danielle Livingston, 36. “This is probably — next to having his kids and getting married — the best day of his life.”
Orvis, who is known as Dan, has lived a full life: he has six children, seven grandchildren, and two young great-grandsons (one of which dressed in a full firefighter outfit and ran around the firehouse, looking like he very much belonged).
“He’s very happy,” said his son, Patrick Orvis, 54. “He’s been around a long time, he saw a lot of happiness in his life.”
Surrounded by all of his family and fellow firefighters, Orvis listened as the dispatcher made an announcement, heard in every firehouse throughout the city: “Brooklyn thanks you for your many years of dedicated service and keeping the Brothers safe. The tradition continues.”
Orvis, who now lives only a few houses down from some of his family, had only one piece of advice for firefighters just starting out.
“They’re in a wonderful job,” he said. “Be good to the job.”
All his life, Patrick Orvis said his dad has been a modest man, rarely talking about his own heroics.
“Whenever he did come home, never talked about what he did,” said the younger Orvis, 54. “Every so often you would see him in the newspapers for making a save or helping someone.”
Patrick Dunn, vice president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said Orvis’s dedication to the department is an inspiration.
“It’s really wonderful because in our line of work, many, many times we lose [people] prematurely,” Dunn said. “It’s really nice to see someone that actually has longevity after a very accomplished career like Chief Orvis had.”
On Monday, Dunn congratulated Orvis for his 30 years of service and 40 years of retirement.
“To see him now retired and in good health and vibrant for a man his age, we can all strive for that,” he said.