Whenever the alarm rang at the Ladder Company 20 firehouse on Lafayette Street, David J. LaForge — a big, quiet fireman with a thick mustache — always headed for the same spot: the driver's seat. Foot to the floor, corners taken with finesse, he would get everybody to the scene in no time flat. "He was like Dale Earnhardt," said Bobby Barrett, who steered the back of the company's ladder truck while Firefighter LaForge handled the front.
It was a talent that began when he was very young, pedaling a miniature fire engine around his family's home in Staten Island, and that accelerated when he got a job crisscrossing the country for North American Van Lines in one of their 18-wheel rigs. So naturally he wanted to become a driver — in Fire Department parlance, the chauffeur — when he joined the department 24 years ago.
"He liked to go fast," said his sister, Jane A. Schwerd, adding that off duty, his chariot was a black Pontiac Firebird Firehawk with a stick shift. "He would sit there and study maps of the city so he would know the way to go."
No one else in their family had been a firefighter, but the life seemed to suit her brother, who was 50 years old and lived in Staten Island. He was forever helping neighbors, an elderly uncle and others. "He was the one who everybody called upon," she said. "And he always answered the call."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on June 2, 2002.