Rick Cunningham, 56
Firefighter talks Backdraft and Happy Days.
Dearborn and Washington Streets
Were you ever known as Richie Cunningham, as in Ron Howard’s Happy Days character?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. When I was younger. With a name like that, oh yeah. People would kid me about, you know, “Where’s the Fonz?”
Did you have your own Fonzie growing up?
Oh, yeah, uh, my dad. He was a maintenance mechanic. [Laughs]
So you’re a firefighter?
Yes, sir. Twenty-two years. Growing up in West Lawn, I was the kid who would ask for a fire truck for Christmas. It’s turned into a reality. Happy it’s worked out that way.
From a firefighter’s perspective, what do you love and hate about Chicago?
Hate the winter season, sub-zero temperatures. It makes the job so much more difficult. Water freezes at 32 degrees and one of our biggest aids in putting out fires is, of course, water. So whenever you’re using water and the temperatures are below freezing, it makes conditions very hard to work in. Ice on the ground makes it hard to move about, and if the hydrants freeze up in the cold temperatures there’s no water supply. But what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
When’s the CFD’s chili cookoff? I want to go!
You missed it. That’s usually right around November or December.
Why are firefighters notorious chiliphiles?
It’s easy to make, it’s filling and you can make a lot for all the guys in the firehouse.
Speaking of Ron Howard and firefighters, have you ever seen Backdraft?
Oh yeah, yeah. Backdraft is a great movie. One of my favorites.
Are you more the Billy Baldwin model of fireman in that movie or more the Kurt Russell model.
Neither. I’m an inspector, so I’d say more the Robert De Niro type. [Laughs]