By Gerhard Schneibel
There couldn’t be a better time to be a fireman or a tougher time to be a stockbroker.
Of all the companies Buckhead and Sandy Springs firefighter Jim Dwyer could have worked for in his previous career as a Wall Street trader, he was at New York-based Lehman Brothers, which rattled the financial world in September by declaring bankruptcy.
His boss was Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld, “the guy that folded his hand,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer was hired as a firefighter by the city of Atlanta in 2003 when he was 46; he now works out of Station 3 at Phipps Plaza. The city of Sandy Springs hired him as a part-time firefighter in 2007; he works out of Station 4 on Wieuca Road.
Because “I came in late, I’m trying to get in as much firefighting as I can,” he said.
Dwyer moved to Atlanta from New York in 1995 to work alongside his father, also Jim Dwyer, and Sandy Springs Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio at A.G. Edwards, which is now Wachovia Securities.
“There were exciting times. … When I was a New York Stock Exchange trader, yeah, you took big positions,” he said. But “I had had it with New York City at that point, even though that’s where I was raised.”
Working as a stockbroker seemed like the right path for Dwyer when he was discharged from the Army in 1985, five years after he graduated from West Point. He found himself dissatisfied, though, and spent time writing a historical novel about World War II’s Battle of Tarawa.
“It wasn’t the real me. Every day I would look at my father, who … other than my mother, finance is the love of his life,” he said.
The inability to predict fluctuations in troubled markets frustrated Dwyer.
“You could get nine out of 10 things right, but that one thing you did wrong ruins everything,” he said. “I can still remember all the phone calls, you know.
“No matter what you said, you didn’t make people feel better. People were scared. That was their money; that was their future.”
Becoming a firefighter gave Dwyer the opportunity to make sacrifices and help people, but making the switch wasn’t easy.
He and his father both recalled a day when a fire alarm went off at A.G. Edwards, and they evacuated the building along with DeJulio.
On the way out, the younger Dwyer said, he passed four firefighters in full gear. “They were laughing,” he said. “The look of how happy they were going to do something dangerous … I thought, ‘Man, I wish I was one of them, and here I am being a stockbroker.’ ”
According to his father, who will be 82 in January and still works at the same business, Dwyer said: “Dad, we’re going the wrong way. I should be in there trying to help people.”
Dwyer Sr. said he is convinced his son’s decision to change careers was influenced by the actions taken by New York firefighters after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
“He’s a religious boy, and I really believe that he believes if he can help people, it’ll help him to get to heaven. I really believe it’s that simple,” he said.
He also said his wife was a bit disappointed when their son decided to become a fireman because, given his West Point education, he could have obtained more worldly success.
“His mother started to realize — and I did, too — that he is a changed person since he became a fireman. He just loves life. I mean, he loves it. And as a parent, that’s really what it’s all about,” Dwyer Sr. said.
He said he supported his wife and five children with his work in finance through four or five market collapses, and he can remember being “very, very under pressure.”
“This period is getting to be comparable to those, and I guess I feel the country is going to get over this period,” he said. “I’m truly optimistic. I do think the economy will be better, and it should before the next two or three years. But, you know, that’s about as far as anybody can look out.”
DeJulio described Dwyer Jr. as “well placed in being a fireman” because he likes outdoor and physical activity.
“He just wasn’t happy being a stock trader. He seems much happier working for the fire department, and we’re happy to have him in Sandy Springs,” DeJulio said. “Whether you’re trying to keep up with the price of an investment or a stock or trying to keep up with a fire working in the fire department, I guess they’re both just very active jobs.”
Dwyer Jr. married his wife, Meryl, two years ago, and he said the pieces of his life have fallen into place.
“Picking a good stock is good, but I imagine saving somebody’s life is a little bit better,” he said. “We’re willing to make a sacrifice, and that’s what I really love.”