“I think folks of St. Augustine would be proud to know she was a neighbor of theirs,” said family friend Mike Noonan. “She was a tough woman, but a caring, beautiful woman.”
Culkin-Spinelli, whom friends and family called “Ginny Ann,” was hired in the first class of female firefighters at the FDNY in September of 1982 and worked for Engine Company 226 in Brooklyn until she was transferred to Engine Company 329 in Queens in 1992. She retired in October 2002 after 20 years with the department.
There were a lot of challenges that went along with being one of the first female firefighters in the department, said her daughter
Shannon Culkin-Llewellyn. But Culkin-Spinelli did her job and earned respect from her coworkers.
“She never really got into the politics of all the craziness, of all the female stuff,” Culkin-Llewellyn said. “She never made a big deal about it. She wanted to work, she wanted to fight fires.”
Culkin-Spinelli was a loving woman and a “tough cookie,” her daughter said. She was also an animal lover.
She loved to ride horses and even ran a turtle rescue, Noonan said.
One day, Culkin-Spinelli helped rescue a dog from a fire, Culkin-Llewellyn said. She gave CPR to the dog and saved its life.
Then there was the time when Culkin-Spinelli was driving home from her shift and saw a plane crash in Rockaway, N.Y. She didn’t have her boots with her but still rushed to the scene to help fight the fire. Her feet were burnt for months from the gasoline, Culkin-Llewellyn said.
“She was just amazing,” Culkin-Llewellyn said. “As little as she was, nobody messed around with my mom.”
During 9/ll, Culkin-Spinelli’s company went to Chinatown to cover a firehouse that was sent down to the World Trade Center. She remembered watching firefighters coming back to the department with “thousand-mile stares,” Noonan said.
Culkin-Spinelli worked at ground zero for more than a month. She even worked on her wedding anniversary, Oct. 3.
“She worked there every day in hopes of finding remains and mementos and rings and knickknacks that were on desktops,” Noonan said.
Eventually, Culkin-Spinelli retired from the department and bought a house with her husband in St. Augustine in 2002. She had been visiting St. Augustine for most of her life, and she and her husband decided to move downtown.
Doctors told her that working at ground zero was probably a factor in causing her cancer, Culkin-Llewellyn said.
“Ginny Ann is a person you’d have to experience,” Noonan said. “A great big smile, a laugh that you’ll never forget.”
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