I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.  – Stephen Leacock (1869-1944)

There is a passage in chapter two of The Spark that talks about Donny keeping a medallion of Saint Florian in the pocket of his fire coat for good luck. Florian was the Commander of the Imperial Army in the Roman province of Noricum, which included most of present day Austria and part of Slovenia. As a military commander he organized and trained a brigade of elite soldiers whose sole duty was to fight fires. Florian’s other notable act was protecting Christians from persecution by the Romans, for which he was canonized. As a result Florian is the patron saint of firefighters and chimney sweeps.

Saint Florian

Saint Florian, painted by Francesco del Cossa, 1473

A couple of people have asked me if I carry St. Florian in my pocket. The simple answer is no, I am not Donny. He is both a better firefighter and a better sailor than I will probably ever be, and hopefully, I’m not nearly as neurotic.

Over the years I’ve met a few guys who keep St. Florian with them or in their lockers at the station. Some carry a St. Christopher’s medallion or their name saint. Others keep a laminated picture of their family or kids in an inside pocket of their turnout gear. I don’t think firefighters are more superstitious than any other cross section of humanity, but at an emergency incident, when people’s lives are on the line including your own, you’ll take whatever help you can get.

The Barringer Meteor Crater, Arizona. Photo by the US Geological Survey.

The Barringer Meteor Crater, Arizona. Photo by the US Geological Survey.

My good luck charm is a little different. I carry a fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite. This is the meteorite responsible for the formation of the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. 49,000 years ago, a chunk of nickel-iron about 55 yards across slammed into our planet at a speed of 13 kilometers per second, or 29,000 miles per hour. The impact had a force of roughly 10 megatons, leaving behind a crater some 1,300 yards across and 570 feet deep.

Most of the meteorite’s 300,000 ton mass was vaporized during its decent and on impact, but roughly 30 tons survived as thousands of fragments scattered on the desert floor around the crater.

My piece of the Canyon Diablo meteorite.

My piece of the Canyon Diablo meteorite.

Mine is one of those fragments.It was given to me by a good friend, who is a mineralogist, around the time that I joined the fire department. I figured that little chunk of iron beat the odds and survived one fiery re-entry and explosion. Like I said, in an emergency, you need all the luck you can find.

My other talisman is a quilt made by my grandmother Myrtle Kenny. I come from a large family. My grandma Kenny had 33 grandchildren and she made quilts for each of us. (The girls got doubles, the boys got singles). The quilts were made with a lot of love and my grandma being a devout woman, I’m sure there were a few prayers said over each of them.

Myrtle Eva (Mainse) Kenny - Nov. 21, 1889 - Jan. 6, 1986

Myrtle Eva (Mainse) Kenny – Nov. 21, 1889 – Jan. 6, 1986

For years I kept that quilt tucked away as a treasured heirloom. I also didn’t have much use for a single quilt. Then about 15 years ago I decided to take it to work. It’s covered my bunk every shift I’ve worked since then.

I don’t want you to get the idea that we spend all our time in bed. I’m in a station close to downtown and we’re pretty busy. Most nights we’ll get a few naps between calls, but it’s different from being at home. You sort of sleep with one foot on the floor and one eye open. If you’ve ever had a sick child you know what I mean.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m grateful for any down time I get while on duty.

Grandma Kenny's quilt on my bunk.

Grandma Kenny’s quilt on my bunk.

That quilt, made with my grandmother’s love and prayers, gives me a sense of comfort and protection  in addition to its physical warmth.  In those periods of calm between the storms, when I can lie on my bunk in the fire station and pull that quilt up over me, I feel it as a sort of shield against the tragedy and destruction that is our stock in trade.

Grandma thought faith was better than luck, but I don’t think she’d mind.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous, and most of all a safe and healthy New Year.


  1. Allan Kenny says:

    I love your photo. John and I are cousins and I too have a parch work quilt that I treasure. Mine is folded neatly over a trunk in our spare bedroom. Every stitch was sewn with love for each of her individual grandchildren. John, you found the perfect place for your blanket on your bunk at the fire station. A great way to honour our dear Grandma. She would proud!.

    • John Kenny says:

      Thanks Allan. She sure was a special lady. The other neat thing about our family is that, for such a diverse group of people, we all genuinely like each other and get along.

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