Rehoboth firefighter reflects on 9/11
Twenty years ago, I gave the eulogy for the firefighters of New York who died Sept. 11, at a memorial in Battery Park in New Castle. With this being the 20th anniversary, I would like to reflect on three of those firefighters with whom I have grown a connection with since that time.
The first is David Fontana, Squad 1, 788 Union St., Brooklyn. In those days there were seven squads, five heavy rescues and a hazmat unit assigned to the Special Operations Command under command of Chief Ray Downey, who also died that day in the towers.
Sept. 11 was Dave’s eighth wedding anniversary. He was scheduled to work that day, but switched to the overnight shift so he and his wife Marian could spend the day in the city celebrating their anniversary. When Dave went to college, he studied sculpture. He wanted to visit one of his favorite museums that day and go out to dinner with Marian.
That morning Marian got up, made breakfast for their son Aidan and took him to his second day of kindergarten. After that, Dave and Marian were going to meet at the Connecticut Muffin on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn, then head out into the city. The Connecticut Muffin is a coffee shop much like Starbucks. On the way to the Connecticut Muffin, Marian called Dave at Squad 1 to make sure his relief was in and he was free to leave. Dave answered the phone, told her he just finished his shower, his relief was in and he would meet her at the Connecticut Muffin in 10 minutes.
As Marian arrived at the Connecticut Muffin, she noticed some black smoke in the sky and never talked to Dave again. Even though Dave was off shift, he jumped on Squad 1 and responded to the World Trade Center.
Twelve men from Squad 1 died that day in the towers.
Next, Paul John Gill, Paulie was his nickname. He was assigned to Engine 54, 723 8th Ave., Manhattan. Engine 54, Ladder 4 and Battalion 9 were assigned to the same house on 8th Avenue. In March 2001, six months before the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in New York City. My wife, daughter and I stayed at the Millennium Hilton, directly across from the World Trade Center. We toured the World Trade Center that weekend and visited the mall under the buildings. I remember that distinctive gold world ball in the courtyard.
That afternoon we were in Times Square waiting to cross the street when Engine 54 stopped at the red light directly in front of me. I remember it because of the name on the truck which was the slogan for that fire house, “Pride of Midtown, Never Missed a Performance.” You see, they were in the Theater District of New York in the heart of Midtown.
As ironies will go, I was with a busload of Delaware firefighters who in October 2001 attended two funerals for firefighters who died Sept. 11. Paul Gill of Engine 54 was one of those funerals.
Paulie was a firefighter, carpenter, artist, loving father, son, brother and hero. He will always be remembered as a person who would lend a hand to anyone in need. No favor was too big of a commitment for Paul. When he said he’d be there to lend a helping hand, you could count on him. It was only fitting that he pursued the career as a firefighter. Paulie had the genuine desire to reach out to people in need. He had two sons, Aaron and Joshua. At 34 years of age, Paulie was more like a big brother to his sons. Paulie was an artist who inherited his artistic skills from his grandfather. Paulie’s funeral was at the Evangel Church, 27th Street, in Queens. It was a very sunny afternoon. We stood on the street with a couple hundred firefighters from all over the United States and Canada.
There were two reserve ladder trucks holding the American flag. As the procession approached and we came to present arms, a Mack fire truck from a volunteer fire company in Long Island led the way. It had FDNY stickers on the side and front of the engine.
We entered the church for the service. It was a big church with singers and musicians. His father, the members of his company and Mayor Giuliana spoke at his service, but the one I remember the most was his sister. She gave a very reflective talk about her brother and the kind of person he was.
Fifteen members of Engine 54, Ladder 4 and Battalion 9 were killed Sept. 11. They were in the only fire house to have the entire shift killed that day. All totaled, they left 28 children behind.
Last is Michael D’Auria, Engine 40, 131 Amsterdam Ave., in the Lincoln Square area of Manhattan. Engine 40 and Ladder 35 were housed in that station. They were called the cavemen because a 60-story high-rise was built around and over their station.
Michael was a rookie, 25 years old, and one of nine firefighters on his mother’s side of the family. He always wanted to be a firefighter. After high school he went to culinary school and became a chef, biding his time until he could take the fire department test. He was a chef at various restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. He was also known for his tattoos, which included St. Michael the Archangel. After earning 100 percent on his written and physical tests, he was sworn in to the department. He had been on the job just nine weeks. The World Trade Center was his second working alarm.
Michael’s funeral was at a very small Catholic church in Staten Island. His funeral was in the morning of our trip to New York. We stood in formation on the street outside the church with about 100 other firefighters and police officers from all over the country. The ladder trucks and the engine were from Jersey City. The engine was draped with black and purple draping, and it had FDNY signs on the side and front. Like many of the funerals, there was no body. Not until the end of the excavation of ground zero did they find Michael’s remains.
Engine 40 and Ladder 35 lost 11 firefighters that day.
Of all the things that have been written or said about Michael D’Auria, it is the one quote I read from his sister, Christina, that strikes the most: “He told her that when he dies, it’s going to be in a big way and it’s going to change the world.” Michael was so right!
I have spent a lot of time reading about the events of Sept. 11. I’ve been to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum twice, and I remember the dedication of the memorial. What I remember the most about the dedication was the New York Children’s Choir who sang, “There’s a Place for Us.” Their beautiful young voices echoed off the slurry walls and the last beam, giving meaning to the fact that yes, this is the place for those who died that day. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” by Virgil, is embossed on the wall of the museum.
Let us never erase the events of that day from our memory. The world we live is not the same as before that day. The three stories I just told you are reflective of the other 340 firefighters who died in those towers. Please take a moment to reflect on what happened Sept. 11, 2001, and remember them always. Thank you.