firemen
From left to right: Captain Terence S.Hatton, Lt. John D. Kiernan, firefighter Gerard Nevins, Lt. Dennis Mojica. Captain Hatton and Lt. Mojica were killed in the World Trade Center attacks. Firefighter Nevins is among the missing.(Daniel P. Alfonso)
FDNY’s Deadliest Day
Terrorist Attack Breaks Department's Century-Old Tradition, But Not Its Pride
Essay
By Kristie A. Kiernan

  ABCNEWS.com

 

N E W Y O R K, Oct. 3 
 — For the Fire Department of New York, the worst terrorist attacks in American history will go down as the department's deadliest day, and the day the department changed forever. 
Never in the history of the department, founded in 1865, had more than 12 firefighters died in a single incident.

Rescuers became warriors when hijackers slammed passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the intense heat of the jet fuel caused New York's twin towers to crumble. In minutes, New York's Bravest lost their legends, their leaders, their rookies, their brothers, and in more than 300 cases, their lives.

At a memorial for one of the fallen, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called September 11, 2001, FDNY's "darkest day and finest hour." Firefighters bravely raced into the burning towers, and while hundreds paid the ultimate price, Giuliani said, it wasn't before they were able to get about 20,000 people out alive.

It’s Their Life

For my father and his "brothers," working in New York City's elite Rescue units isn't merely a career. It's their life. It's in their blood. It's why — before terrorists took his life — Joe Angelini Sr. was a firefighter for more than 40 years. Joe wasn't just a veteran. He was a senior member of one of the city's five elite Rescue Units — and his love for Rescue was immeasurable.

Rescue members are exemplary firefighters before they are hand-picked by FDNY department heads to undergo specialized training. They are the "superstars" of the department.

When Rescue was first created, its primary function was to rescue and aid firefighters in distress.

Today's Rescue units assist firefighters and civilians in need, and respond to difficult fires, underwater rescues, extrications, and collapses. They are equipped with specialized tools regular units don't have, like scuba gear, high-angle, and confined-space equipment.

At a Sunday memorial service for fallen Rescue 1 member David Weiss, Thor Johannessen — a dear friend of Weiss and a fellow Rescue 1 member — recalled a brave off-duty rescue by Weiss.

Weiss was driving along Manhattan's FDR Drive in 1997, when he saw a car plunge into the East River. He pulled over, dove into the frigid water and attempted to save the driver. A short time later, Weiss was placed into Rescue 1. But Johannessen made this point clear to the hundreds of mourners, "It takes more than one act to get you into Rescue."

Strength, courage, bravery, skill, loyalty and honor are the benchmarks of an outstanding firefighter. These traits are ingrained in Rescue workers.

What's even more remarkable is their selflessness and absence of egos.

Ask a Rescue guy to tell you how many times the city has honored him, how many lives he has saved. I bet you money — he won't. You'll get a shrug of the shoulders and a smirk because it's their "job," nothing more to it.

I had to laugh at reports about the firefighters that hung an American flag in the devastation at ground zero. The photo will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable photos in American history. When reporters questioned one of the men in the photo he had "no comment." Why? Because he thinks he did what any other person in the situation would have done. He wasn't doing anything special.

As heroic, courageous and remarkable as their actions may seem to you and me, to them, they're not extraordinary.

I have never encountered more modest, decent, respectable people in my life. Forget million-dollar athletes and Hollywood stars. These people are true role models.

 

Bond Stronger Than Any Other

The names, the personalities, the faces at the Christmas parties and picnics — they are family. They are my family. These remarkable people brought dad home safely to us for more than 23 years. My family will forever be indebted to them.

Ask any firefighter's spouse, daughter or son about this family bond — it is so much more than any definition could ever offer.

Which probably leaves you wondering in amazement at how strong this bond must be — firefighter to firefighter.

FDNY tradition: fallen firefighter bodies are recovered by fellow firefighters and brought home. Once again, we are reminded — loyalty and tradition are the backbones of the department. To think terrorists could break what's amounted to more than a century-old tradition is unconscionable. Years of tradition, dedication, loyalty — and lives — were lost in a matter of minutes.

The firefighters that didn't lose their lives to terrorism have been searching and hoping they will be fortunate enough to find even a piece of their fallen comrades amidst the rubble of what used to be the World Trade Center.

Can you imagine being grateful to find a piece of your friend? And believe me, they are grateful. Finding a piece means medical examiners can conduct DNA tests and the families can be officially notified.

These Rescuers have spent hours upon hours, days upon days, searching with calloused hands and exhausted bodies for men they'll forever call their brothers. Some firehouses and Rescue units lost nearly half their rosters.

Can you imagine the pain? Can you imagine the magnitude of the suffering behind their brave faces?

Last weekend my father looked through his photo collection of Rescue workers in action. Unfortunately, there are few pictures of his closest friends. Through the years, there are so many he didn't hold onto. "I didn't need them — these guys were legends. They were always gonna be around. We were gonna get old together and share our stories. Now they're gone."

The day after the attacks, dad choked back tears when he told me "If we can't bring 'em home it'll be devastating."

 

‘You’re a Rescue Kid’

Dad had a saying for my sisters and I — his "girls." No matter what the pain we were feeling — whether we fell as kids and needed stitches, lost a championship softball game, had troubles in school or even with our careers, dad always told us, "Hey, come on. You're a Rescue kid."

To our family those words didn't need a disclaimer. We're his daughters — the toughest of the tough, the best of the best — something we've always known in our hearts.

I wonder if dad knows how many times I have reminded myself of those words to help me through troubled times. They've always been a source of strength and pride for me, and they'll continue to be for the rest of my life. I've never felt prouder to be a Rescue kid.

 

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