"All I remember seeing was a group of guys and one of them looked like he threw something," Buchanan in an interview yesterday at his home in the city's Juniata Park neighborhood. "To actually be able to recognize the guy, I couldn't."
It was very nearly the last thing Buchanan ever saw. One fragment of glass scraped the cornea of his right eye and another ripped below the skin a quarter inch from the corner of his left eye. He needed more than 30 stitches in his lips and cheeks.
He said doctors told him the blurring caused by the damage to his cornea would pass, but from time to time he could expect that some small chips of glass will bother him as they work their way to the surface of his face. The worst scars, he said, would be above his lip, where the bottle struck him.
"It became like a shrapnel effect," said an angry Buchanan, who joined the Fire Department in 1969 shortly after he got out of the Army. "You're making a call to help somebody and they're thowing garbage at you. . . . What are you supposed to do, go out in tanks?"
East District police detectives were investigating the assault, but Buchanan was unable to give them a detailed description. He stated only that the assailant wore a light-colored jacket and had dirty-blond or light-brown hair.
It was hardly the reception Buchanan expected in the blue-collar neighborhood where he grew up and where he still visits corner bars.
Back in the late 1960s when he was drafted out of Port Richmond, it was a family neighborhood. Now, "people have an attitude," Buchanan said.
Statistically, firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
Just after he joined the force, Buchanan was injured when the intense heat of a fire penetrated his protective headgear and seriously scorched his ears. In August, he tripped over a bed in a burning room, knocked off his oxygen mask and suffered smoke inhalation.
"It comes with the job, but this is the thing you can't accept," he said, pointing to his battered face. "I didn't do anything to that guy."
Les Yost, president of the Philadelphia firefighters' union, said there had been several similar attacks on firefighters recently, but in the other cases the items thrown at firefighters missed them.
Yost said his organization was offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the youth responsible for Friday's assault. He said anyone with information should contact him at 625-9800 or visit the union office at Fifth and Willow Streets. All information will be confidential.
Buchanan said he will be preparing to return to work as soon as his stitches are removed.
"I'm upset and I'd like to see the kid caught, but I still like the job," he said.