Goodbye to Roy Chelsen, Warwick's Hero Firefighter

Times Herald Record - January 16, 2011

by Michael Novinson

NYFD, Family Honor Chelsen

WARWICK - The steady beating of the drums and shrill sound of the bagpipes pierced through a crisp Saturday morning wind as some 150 New York City firemen stood at attention, awaiting the casket of the 51-year-old bone cancer victim.

"Roy was always one to do things for himself, but now he learned he had to accept help from others," Joan Chelsen told the roughly 400 people gathered in the Warwick Valley High School auditorium to remember her brother.

The daring, hardheaded Staten Island native saved the lives of 18 of his FDNY brothers when he ushered them out of the World Trade Center's north tower moments before it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

"He wasn't going to let anyone dictate his life, especially terrorists," said firefighter Kevin Murray, who credits Chelsen for his survival on 9/11.

Murray returned the favor several years later, Joan Chelsen said, by organizing blood drives in hopes of finding a match for Roy.

Chelsen was diagnosed with incurable bone-marrow cancer in December 2005. It has been linked to the Chelsen's work digging through the rubble at Ground Zero after the attacks.

Chelsen's daredevil ways stretch back to his childhood. Joan Chelsen recalled Roy receiving 12 stitches and two black eyes when he attempted to jump over a picnic table at the tender age of five.

"He always lived life the way he wanted to, even when he was told not to," Murray said.

Chelsen's rebellious streak survived his cancer diagnosis. Just a day after returning from the hospital, Chelsen sneaked out of the house while his wife Trish was picking up prescriptions; he joined his buddies on a camping trip. It wasn't until Trish called Murray that she confirmed the whereabouts of her husband.

The couple's only child didn't follow in his father's footsteps, choosing instead to attend college and obtain an accounting degree.

Christopher Chelsen said his gruff father usually provided tough love, but the 24-year-old knew it was love nonetheless.

"I don't know if I told him enough, but I loved him so damn much," Christopher Chelsen said. "He will be missed."