Raymond Cooney was passionate about firefighters his entire life. Growing up with a dad who was a New York City firefighter, Cooney followed in his footsteps and also worked as one of the city’s bravest for 10 years until 2003, when he fell from a ladder and landed on his feet, sustaining neck, hip and back injuries. After two years and multiple surgeries, Cooney was no longer able to return to work as a fireman.
The former Massapequa resident found another outlet and began to write for television with his nephew, a screenwriter who came to live with Cooney’s family for six months. Together, they wrote 31 ideas and nine TV shows, and one of them was eventually picked up.
Fire House Kitchen, now in its fourth season, features Cooney cooking with firemen at their stations around the country. The show airs on channel 25, FIOS, NYC Life and Optimum. A Firehouse cookbook is in the works and will be out in 2016.
“The show is not just about cooking, it is about firefighter’s lives. The show raises money for local burn centers, friends of firefighters, and the Islip Firefighter’s Museum in Suffolk County which is being built,” said Cooney, who donates all he makes to firefighting causes. “I love doing the show; it’s a lot of fun. I love being a fireman and I love cooking with firemen because it really makes me feel like I am a fireman again.”
If Cooney’s last name sounds familiar, it’s because he is one of nine siblings, many who still reside in Massapequa. He is also the brother of famous Irish tenor Andy Cooney, who has performed at Carnegie Hall and will be back at Burns Park this August.
“He got the singing talent, but I got the looks,” said Cooney.
While recently filming at the Nassau County Firefighter’s Museum annual barbecue contest in Westbury, Cooney enjoyed talking to the competitive grill masters from each fire house.
“It was one of most fun days I have had filming the show here. Everyone was so nice,” he said. “The Nassau County Firefighter’s Museum is such a great organization. Anything they need, Fire House Kitchen will help them with.”
Fire House Kitchen has gone through its own transformation, as the first season was done with another firefighter who was a chef.
“He had a different take on the show and wanted to do it on a set. The entire show was about his cooking and the show wasn’t really going anywhere,” said Cooney. “I thought it needed to be a little jazzier so I thought; ‘I’m a New York City firefighter, I’ll talk about safety tips and bring a little more energy to the show.’”
It was right around that time when Hurricane Sandy swept through Long Island that the show wasn’t picked up. The two firemen parted company, but when a producer saw the show and loved it, he wanted Cooney.
“I originally told them no but they called me back so I finally agreed,” said Cooney, who filmed 13 episodes in three days. “I called up all of my friends. The first show aired at 11:30 p.m. on a Monday night.”
Each episode was filmed all over Long Island at different firehouses, with one of them being in Massapequa. The show has since gained popularity and due to the positive reviews, it now receives an air slot on Friday and Saturday.
“I go around the country and cook with firefighters and we share stories about firefighter life,” he said on why he believes his show works. “I also bring safety tips and fire facts, including fire prevention to the public. It breaks the show up so it’s not just about cooking.”
As a firefighter, Cooney believes his experience is what separates Fire House Kitchen from other television shows.
“When we talk on the show, we relate to each other,” he said, adding that he watches the show with his children, ages 15, 13 and 12. “I still feel like I am a fireman; it brings me back. It’s a bond that we have, its fami ly and just like in any home, the kitchen is where most family things happen…where the conversation is. That’s how it is in the firehouse.”