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From putting out flames to earning their wings

No airline has attracted more first responders than JetBlue
Former NYC firefighters join JetBlue cabin crews 04:04

This piece originally aired on October 24, 2014.

For more than a decade, major airlines have hired former first responders for their flight crews; and no airline has attracted more talent than JetBlue, reports CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg.

Of all the careers Kevin Lynch considered, flight attendant was barely on the radar. And he certainly didn't know much about the business.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing, except maybe serving a soda or two, and that's all I thought it was," he said.

Before flying for JetBlue -- Lynch had another job.

"I was a New York City firefighter for 24 years," he said.

Former firefighters becoming flight attendants is fast becoming a proud tradition at JetBlue. Today, one in ten of the airline's flight attendants is either a retired or current New York City firefighter.

And they're offering passengers a lot more than in-flight snacks.

"They're great at altitude and if you're start talking about decisions at 35,000 feet, it's nice to have 20 years plus worth of experience fighting fires or whatever the case might be to make that decision," JetBlue CEO David Barger said.

Even though not everyone dreams of becoming a flight attendant, Barger thinks that might change.

"It's a natural transition for those who want to remain in New York and many of them will say 'hey, listen, we're part of a close-knit family at this fire department, and we're part of a close-knit family at JetBlue as well,'" Barger said.

Lynch stays in touch with his friends back at Engine 312, the firehouse he joined at 21 years old. He left at age 44, one year after the events of September 11, 2001.

He said that day took a big toll on him.

"And a lot of other guys too, mentally and physically," Lynch said. "But you goT through it. That's why you were working 48 hours straight up from night to day."

But he said the tireless work during that time was for a specific purpose.

"You wanted to find someone, find a friend, find a brother," he said.

Following the attacks, JetBlue, and most major airlines, offered free flights to first responders and their families.

For the firefighters looking to retire from public service, second careers as flight attendants represented a new opportunity.

"I mentioned to him about coming to JetBlue and he got very excited about it, eh thought it would be a great idea, and I couldn't shake him loose after that," flight attendant Charlie Harris said.

Lynch learned about the airline from his former firehouse lieutenant, Charlie Harris. The recruitment of brother fire fighters soon spread like wildfire.

"It was pretty obvious that this pipeline, this natural pipeline of really recruiting talent within mainly the FDNY," Barger said. "It was absolutely amazing."

Last year, JetBlue painted and dedicated an aircraft to New York's bravest.

The plane has since been celebrated with fire department fanfare at airports throughout the country.

"That airplane is the most washed aircraft wherever it flies, but it's amazing because it's like the community is tipping their hats," Barger said.

The fire-engine red jet also represents a meaningful gift to the nearly 300 firefighters now working the aisles at JetBlue.

"JetBlue wanted to honor us firefighters working at JetBlue and they gave us a plane," Lynch said

Even still, he said he still misses his old office.

"You know what I miss in the firehouse?" Lynch asked. "I miss the back room. We had some of the best meals at the firehouse."

But now he's happy working in a safer environment, albeit at a higher altitude.

"As far as the firefighting duties and running into a burning building, and not knowing what's gonna happen, I don't miss doing that," he said. "My family is way more important."

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