New York's Bravest Hurt and Heal

Queens Tribune - September 16, 2003

by Liz Goff 

Kevin is nine now, but he celebrated his seventh birthday just two days before his firefighter dad went into the Twin Towers with his Queens Rescue Squad to “help people get out” and never came out himself.

The little boy’s mother has tried to return some normalcy to Kevin’s life and to the lives of his three sisters.

“It’s difficult,” she said, “We try to move on with school and scouts, dance and karate lessons.” The girls — ages 14, 13 and 11 — seem to be adapting “better and easier than Kevin,” mom said. “But Kevin, he just keeps searching for his dad.”

Kevin’s father’s remains were never located. Kevin’s third-grade class went on a field trip earlier this year, to visit the South Street Seaport and Ground Zero. His teacher turned away for a moment “and Kevin was gone,” his mother said. “He was found a few moments later, digging through some soil and debris – and his pockets were filled with sand and pebbles,” she said. Kevin told his teacher he wondered if he might find something from his dad in the pile of soil, she said.

Moving On

Firefighters at Rescue Squad 288 and HazMat Co. 1 in Maspeth are a special breed of men, trained to assist in the worst tragedies, the most difficult rescue operations. The house lost 19 men on Sept. 11. Fifty-one children were left without a father.

Firefighters from 288 and HazMat, despite a lack of counseling and grief services from the FDNY, turned their energy after Sept. 11 toward the children and wives of those lost at the Twin Towers.

They arranged outings, holiday parties and picnics, said a Lieutenant. “We did whatever we could, to help the kids get through the really tough times,” he said – even at the risk of missing time with their own children.

Raphaella Crisci, wife of Lt. John Crisci who perished on Sept. 11, said, “Sometimes the most wonderful thing the guys did for the children was to listen.”

“It is so important for these kids to have a sense of continuity, to know that life goes on. No matter how difficult that is,” she said.

The children, she said, have learned that they can always count on the men who worked alongside their dad – and any city firefighter – to listen and “just be there” for them.

“But they also realized that this is their life, and they will be able to get back to some sort of normal day-to-day routine. Sometimes that means that they don’t reach out to the guys as much,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that the guys don’t care and wouldn’t be there if they needed them.”

“It means that the kids are growing, making their own way and developing their own paths,” she said. “And that’s O.K.” 

Anniversary Memorial

The wives will join firefighters at the Maspeth house this week on the morning of Sept. 11 for a breakfast. The group plans to travel to Ground Zero together for the formal memorial, then break up for private services, said Lt. Flynn of Squad 288.

“We will always get together on Sept. 11 . . . and for always, whenever they need us – or we need them,” Flynn said.

Some of the wives remain in constant contact, firefighters said. Others have “sort of faded away,” but still reach out from time to time, they said.

One HazMat firefighter said, “Life goes on, even though we mark time in remembrance . . . It’s like the beach. You can do whatever you want with the sand – build castles, write on it, dig holes. But sooner or later, the tides will wash up and return it to the way it was . . . almost. There will always be some grains of sand missing, but it hasn’t all been destroyed.“

Some of the wives said the adjustment has been difficult for their children because of the intense publicity surrounding the loss of 343 city firefighters.

“People genuinely want to help,” one wife said. “And we are sincerely grateful. But I still have to explain to my five-year-old why daddy wasn’t at her kindergarten graduation,” she said.

Some firefighters at the house said they “had to pull back” to get through their own loss, the overwhelming feeling that the companies had been stripped of so many men on Sept. 11. “These are very personal feelings,” one said, “you keep telling yourself it’s going to be okay. But then you think, they’re really not coming back.”

The firefighters have transformed a wall at the house into a memorial for their fallen brothers. Where coats, jackets, helmets and equipment once hung on a series of hooks, there are now 19 brass plaques bearing remembrances of the fallen men.

“Everything we do to remember them takes them farther away now,” said one firefighter. “Everything we do to keep them close just makes them more of a memory.”