Jack Slivinski Jr.'s decision to pose for a hunky firefighters' calendar that would benefit widows of fallen colleagues reflected what he loved about the Philadelphia Fire Department's elite rescue unit: "We don't leave anybody behind."
The former Marine took pride in upholding the ethic that made his job so satisfying. "To be able to help the citizens of Philadelphia is super-rewarding," he said in an online video accompanying the 2012 calendar being released Thursday.
From Day 1, Slivinski was going to be featured on the cover, not only because he was strikingly handsome, with china-blue eyes, thick wavy hair, an easy smile and a buff body. "Mr. Philadelphia" also would represent the city where Benjamin Franklin started the nation's first volunteer fire department.
But his high-profile role had unanticipated consequences. He shot himself to death at home June 25, a month after his 32nd birthday. He left no suicide note.
Now, like others who lose a son or daughter to suicide, his parents, John "Jack" Slivinski Sr. and Gerry Slivinski, are struggling to find meaning in his death.
Sure, Jack Jr. had his share of troubles, including a separation from his wife, although he had hoped for reconciliation. They knew he was unhappy; he'd recently begun taking antidepressants. He might have experienced residual sadness from the death of Lt. Derrick Harvey, 45, a close friend and colleague who died after trying to rescue Slivinski and another firefighter from a burning house, unaware they'd escaped.
The Slivinskis say, however, that unanticipated censure for baring much of his buff body in the "Nation's Bravest: Firefighters Unite" calendar fueled their son's despair. Despite the rawness of their grief, the two are coming to New York for Thursday's calendar launch party at a SoHo nightclub, where they'll meet the other featured firefighters. They'll attend another calendar party in Philadelphia Sept. 7, with proceeds funding the Widows Fund of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.
"We're going to support my son," Gerry Slivinski, 56, said Tuesday in an interview from her Philadelphia home.
"It makes me feel good that they're doing these things for my son and the widows, but I don't know if it's helping me or not," said Jack Slivinski Sr., 60, an original member of Philly's elite rescue unit.
After taking a month off, he returned to work because "I couldn't be in the house by myself with the four walls."
Fellow firefighters have been exceptionally helpful to him, his wife and their daughter, Jennifer. "Anything we need," he said. "They're bending over backwards."
Firefighters have expressed support for Jack Jr.; a Facebook page attests to the many people who cared about him. More than 1,000 people came to the memorial service honoring the former altar boy.
After high school, Slivinski spent four years with the Marines, then joined his father in the fire department. Special Marine Corps training in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons made it possible for him to take over his father's spot in the Rescue 1 squad in 2005. He also pursued his love of cooking, working part-time as a sous-chef at Apollinaire, an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. He hoped to open his own restaurant some day.