The Saga of the Fireman’s Suicide

by longformphilly

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Steve Volk | Philadelphia Magazine | March 2012

He opened the door, pushing in without a knock.

“Jack,” he called into the dark. “Jack!”

No answer. But he knew his way around his son’s house, and he walked straight toward the bedroom. From the threshold, he could see the worst: his son’s body, slumped across the floor. Blood on his head. Handgun on the ground.

Like his son, Jack Slivinski Sr. was a fireman. He had attended many tragic scenes, seen many dead. And he knew: His son Jack was now one of them. But that didn’t stop him from rolling the body over, placing his mouth over his son’s. “The breath of life,” they call it, a procedure both men had learned on the job.

He called an ambulance, then his wife.

And this is how mysteries start: In the middle of the night, with dead bodies on bedroom carpets.

When we think of unexplained deaths, we think of murder. Our protagonist is the cynical homicide cop who tallies the facts and catches the killer. Suicides, it turns out, involve a similar kind of mystery. Only in those cases, it’s the relatives—say, parents like Jack Slivinski’s father, and his mother, Gerry—who act as the sleuths. They are the ones left behind to solve the riddle: Why did my son take his own life?

In the case of Jack Slivinski Jr., his parents found no shortage of reasons.

Writer bio: Steve Volk is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine. Volk, a University of Florida graduate, wrote for alt-weeklies in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for 20 years. He is one of the city’s foremost narrative journalists.

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