Christopher Gavin is the FDNY’s finest wine, their oldest living retiree at the well-seasoned age of 104.
The spry centenarian had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face when he greeted the Daily News inside his tidy house in a quiet corner of Queens. It’s the same place he’s lived since 1936, when he first joined the FDNY.
“Why’d I join the department?” he asked. “Two reasons: cash and power.”
He was 26 and newly married when the Great Depression compelled him to look for steady employment.
Fiorello LaGuardia was the mayor and Bing Cosby sang longingly about pennies from heaven when Gavin — worried about supporting wife Margaret — became a firefighter.
“It was a living,” he said of his 20-year career.
Gavin joined the FDNY in 1936 and served for 20 years.
“Back then, people were very afraid of fire, they were careful. They were so poor, what little they had, they worked hard to protect it,” he noted.
Gavin served most of his time in Ladder 3 on 13th St. in the East Village — but modestly waved aside questions about big fires and commendations.
“We didn’t get those back then, just write-ups,” he said.
“Don’t make a big thing out of this,” he added. “I’m just incidental.”
Known as “Pop” or “Poppy” or sometimes “The Kid,” to his two children, eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandkids, Gavin grew up in Brooklyn among firehouses that still had horses.
“Oh yes, sometimes I’d even get to ride one, just from here to there,” he recalled.
Born in 1910, he and his two brothers were orphaned when both parents died in the 1918 flu pandemic.
Still sharp, Gavin sometimes struggled during a recent sitdown to hear over the general hub-bub from visiting granddaughter Patrice Burke, her husband Tim Burke, and Gavin’s youngest great-grandson, Austin, 4.
His hearing loss was partially due to an explosion during a fire when Gavin was at Ladder 3, his granddaughter said. He lost significant hearing in one ear because of it. But he didn’t get medical leave — or time off to treat it.
“Back then, they just showed up to work the next day,” Burke said.
Now a widower, he lives with a caretaker in the house where he and Margaret — he referred to her as “my darling” — raised their family.
Wilbur Hutchins, 94, is another of the FDNY's oldest Bravest. He joined the force in 1947.
An avid golfer and gardener until just a few years ago, Gavin reads the newspaper and watches the news every day, his granddaughter said. Gavin admitted to a “splash of wine” on the weekends with cheese and crackers when a good golf tournament is on television. His favorite treat is cheesecake.
The table beside the comfortable chair where he spends most of his time was already cluttered with a box of Milano cookies and two cans of Pringles potato chips.
Asked about the secret of his long life, Patrice Burke said Pop enjoyed his treats, but always in moderation.
“He and my grandmother saved a lot, but they truly enjoyed life, they spent on simple pleasures, the things they really loved,” she said. “They had good friends and family, love and faith.”
Her grandfather, however, had a different answer when asked about the key to longevity.
“Lots of broads,” he said.
Although Gavin is the oldest living former New York City firefighter, there’s a surprising number of others right on his heels.
Three Bravest are 101, three are 100, four are 99 and an astounding 12 are 98, according to FDNY records.
By comparison, Wilbur Hutchins, 94, is actually the baby of the group.
Hutchins, an active member of the FDNY retirees group, came on the job 10 years after Gavin — in 1947. Like many of that generation, Hutchins served overseas in WWII.
He saw a lot of heavy action on the front lines, where he worked as part of a firefighting unit. That was how he first learned to battle the Red Devil, Hutchins said.
He returned home and joined the FDNY, and became a lucky member of the club that retires from the dangerous job with no serious injuries.
“I don’t mind not being the oldest,” Hutchins told The News. “Hey, I’m just glad we’re all still alive.”