Firefighter Vincent Princiotta


The Essence of Cool First there was the blue van with the surfboard strapped to the roof. Then there were the bright Hawaiian shirts, the flowing hair, the perpetual tan. Soon there was no doubt: Vincent A. Princiotta was cool. Starting in the late 1970's, Mr. Princiotta, a firefighter with Ladder Company 7 in Manhattan, led a band of surfers from their landlocked Bronxwood Avenue neighborhood into the big waves off Gilgo Beach. "I think he watched too much Don Ho," said Dave Breiner, a Connecticut firefighter who knew him as Vinny Van. When he visited his sister Bernadette at college in Hawaii, her friends were amazed, she said, that a non- Hawaiian, "this haoli from the Bronx," was so able on the longboard. Even as the years rolled by, and he married the lovely Karen and became the adoring father of Christina, now 16 months old, Mr. Princiotta, 39, who lived in Orangeburg, N.Y., maintained his profile. He invested in phony winning lottery tickets, which he would distribute to his fellow firefighters and watch while they shrieked and kissed the firehouse floor. But he also helped the younger ones get familiar with firefighting tools, said Patty Boylan, a friend and colleague at Ladder 7, and cooked heaps of Italian food for the entire company. And he kept on surfing. "He was just supercool," Mr. Boylan said. "We called him the Vin Man."

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