By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
When Daniel Nigro sat through his chemistry classes at Bayside High School, he never realized the knowledge he gained about combustible gases and chemical reactions would someday help him fight fires.
“I remember being a student and asking myself, ‘Why do I need to know this?’” Nigro told students in Dr. Constantin Moisseau’s forensic science class last Thursday.
The former Fire Department chief and Whitestone resident, who retired in September after 33 years in the department, visited his alma mater as part of the citywide Principal for a Day program in which distinguished graduates share their experiences with current students. The program is sponsored by Public Education Needs Civic Involvement, or PENCIL, a non-profit group that hosts about 450 principals a year.
Nigro, who became chief on Sept. 11, 2001 immediately after then-Chief Peter Ganci was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, told students that regardless of life’s unpredictable turns, a high school education provided a solid foundation for any career.
“There are careers for you that don’t (even) exist today,” said Nigro. “It’s all part of life and your ability to function in whatever it is life throws at you.”
Nigro, whose father was a fire captain, studied business at Baruch College before joining the Fire Department in 1969.
He was thrust into the spotlight after Sept. 11, he said, not because of his accomplishments but because “I was put in that position by fate.”
Nigro said fire marshals used the very same concepts the students were learning in class to investigate the causes of fires.
The chief spoke in between presentations by two 11th-grade students, one of whom made a flow chart demonstrating the logic of Sherlock Holmes in solving a murder case and another who prepared a report on bioterrorism.
Six students from the high school were also chosen to participate in a “press conference” with Nigro put on by journalism students.
“I enjoy seeing what the students here are doing,” said Nigro, who sits on the Fire Department’s Terrorism Preparedness Task Force. “We don’t read much about good things in education, and there are a lot of good things going on here, a lot of smart kids who work hard.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.