Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Plus Three

"Politics is the strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles." - Ambrose Bierce

I earn my living as a litigator.  I am an attorney who defends individuals and entities (public and private) when it is alleged that their negligence caused harm to another, which harm resulted in some type of tangible, ascertainable damage or injury.   I mention that today in this space for this reason.  On September 11, 2001 343 active-duty members of the FDNY died at the World Trade Center.  Three retired members of the FDNY were killed also:  Captain James Corrigan, Firefighter Philip Hayes and Firefighter William Wren. 

For reasons that remain entirely unclear to me - even after reading several different articles on the subject - the issue of classifying these three men as members of the FDNY who were killed in the line of duty became not only a subject of consternation but of litigation.  Litigation that raged on for close to a decade after their deaths.  If there is one thing I believe firmly as a litigator it is that no one ever knows the "whole story" about a particular matter in dispute simply by reading articles and/or accounts that are written about it.  That being said, you may want to read about it and should you want to, you will find information about it here and here.  I will say only this about it.  In preparation of this piece I looked at the official FDNY web site.  Captain Corrigan, FF Hayes and FF Wren are all have a 9/11 memorial page.  None is listed, however, on the FDNY's index of line of duty deaths, which index dates back to the mid-19th century.  

I neither pretend to know nor pretend to be intelligent enough to offer an informed opinion as to the ins and outs of the politics that has dominated the issue of how to officially characterize the deaths of these three men.  Candidly, it matters not at all.  It matters not at all because - as you shall hopefully see in short order - the greatness of each of these men was found not in their deaths but in their lives.  A fact borne out by the Parade of Flags at the 2009 Tunnel to Towers Run for which - on a rainy September Sunday - their brothers honored each of them by carrying a flag bearing their likenesses identical to those carried for the 343 active members of the FDNY who died so that others could live on that terrible Tuesday morning eleven Septembers ago. 

William Wren had retired from the FDNY as a member of Ladder Company #166.  On the morning of September 11, 2001 he was working for OCS Security at the World Trade Center as its District Manager of Fire Safety.   When all hell broke loose that morning, Wren did what his life's work and experience had trained him to do:  he assisted in the rescuing of others as if his employer's monogram was still FDNY and not OCS.  He did what only the truly brave among us can do innately:  he headed towards trouble to help others escape from it rather than simply escaping from it himself as fast as he could. 

At age 61, with a quarter century of firefighting experience under his belt, William Wren had enough presence of mind to know just how long the odds were against him and his brothers from the FDNY.  It mattered not to him.  And while it undoubtedly broke their hearts, his decision likely came as no surprise at all to his wife Patricia or to his two sons, William Jr. and Christopher.   He died doing something that he loved, which mirrored the advice that he gave to his two boys when they began thinking about their own career paths:  "You want something that you love, that you're waking up in the morning and looking forward to."   

Philip T. Hayes spent twenty years fighting fires for the FDNY.  He retired in 1979 as a member of Engine 217.   In September 2001 he was employed as the Fire Safety Director at the World Trade Center, a position he had held since 1995.  He was sixty-seven years old at the time of his death, a Brooklyn boy who was the second eldest child in a typically small Irish family of sixteen kids.  He was survived by his wife Virginia, their four children and ten grandchildren

Actually, the tenth grandchild arrived on the scene about three weeks after his grandpa's death.  His daughter Laura gave birth to a son on October 1, 2001.  The baby weighed in at 9 pounds, 11 ounces.  His name?  Philip of course.  What else would have possibly suited that young man?  


James Corrigan had retired from the FDNY in 1994, after having served the people of the City of New York for close to three decades - first as a member of the NYPD for six years before settling in for a twenty-three year run in the FDNY.  Among the houses where he had worked as a member of the FDNY was Ladder 10 ("Ten House"), which is located at 124 Liberty Street - directly across from the World Trade Center site and now the home of the National 09/11 Memorial.  Ten House lost five other members that day

He knew the buildings intimately, which served him well in his civilian job, which was the Director of Fire and Life Services for the World Trade Center Complex and of course served everyone well on the morning of September 11, 2001.  When the buildings were attacked, Corrigan was among the quartet that also included Philip Hayes among its number that saved all of the children in the Day Care Center by breaking the glass windows and carrying the children out to safety through the broken windows, thus avoiding the bottleneck of people at the exits near the Day Care Center who were trying to get out of the building themselves.  Every child who was in the Day Care Center that morning survived.  Only one of their four rescuers was as fortunate. 

After having helped shepherd the children to safety, Captain Corrigan headed directly back into harm's way.  He knew the buildings like the back of his hand so when problems first emerged with the FDNY's radios, which made it difficult if not impossible to communicate the order to evacuate the South Tower to the firefighters throughout the building, Corrigan got involved.  He and Chief Grzelak headed to a lower level in the building in an effort to open the old command station, from which the building intercoms and elevators in four of the Complex's buildings had been controlled prior to the 1993 bombing.  The South Tower collapsed as they were undertaking that effort.  Corrigan was survived by his wife of almost thirty years Marie and two sons, Brendan and Sean.  At the time of their father's death, neither of the brothers was a firefighter.  Now, both are.   Both are following in their father's footsteps in more ways than one.  And as seems to be the case with the Corrigans, the path they have chosen is one that helps many....

....a path it seems that is walked by many of the families of the 343 + 3.   

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love....

-AK

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