Sunday, September 9, 2012

Everyday Heroes

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who does him absolutely no good.

- Samuel Johnson

Chances are that Samuel Johnson had not bothered to think for one moment just how gloriously his words would apply to the FDNY.  An organization of men and women who - to be honest - spend their day-to-day doing their job in splendid anonymity far away from the media spotlight.  September 11, 2001 did not make them heroes.  Rather, it exposed those of us who had been ignorant or otherwise unaware of their heroism to it in the boldest possible manner. 

Timothy Stackpole was a Captain, Division 11, in the FDNY when he was killed in action on September 11, 2001.  He had precious little time to enjoy his new rank.  He had been promoted from Lieutenant only a few days earlier.   Captain Stackpole was a devoutly religious man and he and his wife Tara were the proud parents of five.  As was the case with many of his fellow fallen heroes that day, Captain Stackpole was not required to be at the World Trade Center.  His shift had ended.  He was free to go home.  But as was the case with all of his FDNY comrades, he had to be there.  Why?  Because it was where they were needed. 

Not only was Captain Stackpole not required to be there, due to severe injuries sustained in the line of duty slightly more than three years earlier.  On June 5, 1998, he sustained second and third degree burns over thirty percent of his body while fighting the Atlantic Avenue fire, which fire killed Capt. Scott LaPiedra of Ladder 176 and Lt. James Blackmore of Engine 332.   In the ensuing civil lawsuit, the City of New York paid the firefighters injured in the blaze and the families of the two who had been killed a settlement in excess of $4.2 Million, which result was prompted by the City's alleged failure to have heeded warnings regarding the structural flaws of the building in which the fire occurred.  

Presumably, Tim Stackpole could have retired or collected a large disability pension.  He did neither.  Instead he spent two months in the hospital and upon being released he subjected himself to a punishing PT regimen to ensure that he would eventually be able to pass a FDNY physical and be cleared to return to full duty.  On September 11, Captain Stackpole formed a company that rushed into the South Tower and was trapped inside of the building when it collapsed.   

Firefighter Michael Boyle and Firefighter David Arce were inseparable in life, including on what became the last day of each of their respective lives.  The pair had been inseparable since junior high school in Westbury, where they first met. They took the firefighters test together and they could be found at Mets games together. They even went to the same dentist. They were so close that Arce's mother, Margaret, called them "the Bobbsey Twins."  FF Arce is one of the members of the FDNY about whom I wrote in this space last September. 

Both were members of Engine 33 in Manhattan.  On September 11, 2001 they died together.  They were last seen alive - by a member of the FDNY who escaped death that morning - in the lobby of the North Tower having sped down forty floors together in an effort to escape the building before it collapsed.  They were trapped together in the collapse in the lobby's southwest corner, which is where their bodies were discovered, together, in the final weekend of January, 2002.  Appropriately their families buried them along side one another in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.

Michael Boyle, thirty-seven years old, was the son of a New York City firefighter and like his father Jimmy had been (twice in fact), Michael Boyle hoped to one day be the president of the firefighters union.   Michael Boyle joined the FDNY in 1996.  On that awful morning, Jimmy Boyle saw the second hijacked plane strike the South Tower from his office in Brooklyn.  If you have the time, listen to him tell you what he saw and did that day.  He was about two blocks from the Twin Towers when the North Tower collapsed.  Having narrowly escaped injury or death himself he headed over to his son's firehouse to see if he was perhaps there.  When he opened his son's locker he saw that which he had hoped not to see:  Michael's car keys and his wallet.  He came to learn that Michael and David Arce had not even taken the time to stop and get in uniform before heading into Hell's mouth.  Rather, the two caught a ride downtown on a fire engine that was headed that way. 

On that warm, sun-soaked Tuesday morning eleven Septembers ago far too many fire engines were in fact headed that way.  And far too few of them headed home at day's end carrying homeward all of the members of the FDNY who had been on board that morning.

When you are the parent of a New York City firefighther - whether a retired firefighter yourself like Jimmy Boyle or simply a Mom grieving the loss of her son like Margaret Arce - you seem to be programmed to turn tragedy into triumph.  Much in the same way that their sons lived their lives together - and died together - Jimmy Boyle and Margaret Arce have carried on in their names together.  The Arce-Boyle Memorial Fund is a non-profit corporation the two established to honor their sons' names and to continue to do what each gave his life doing, which is helping those in need. 


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