Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Class of '76

Cirignano, DeStefano, Gorman, Hoey, O'Connor and Laggini.  These were the names I remember from my brother Kelly's high school days, which given the eight years or so between us, happened while I was still fumbling my way through the first half of elementary school.  The first five were names I learned for his teammates on the football team at Immaculata.  Dave Laggini - who if memory serves was not a football player - was Kelly's Italian friend who never once voiced an objection to being called "Boccigalupe" by our Irish parents.  I do not know to what extent my brother maintained contact with any of them or what any of them are up to presently...except for Dave Laggini.  On my weekend runs through Bound Brook and Bridgewater I see his face a lot.  I hope his realty business is successful.  He certainly has a lot of listings.  

One name that I do not recall from my brother's time at "the Big Immac" was that of John M. Collins.  I did not know, until I read something that Kelly wrote in his honor on Thursday that FF Collins, one of the 343 members of the FDNY who died in the line of duty in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a classmate and football teammate of my older brother's.  

FF Collins lived with his family in the Bronx, New York until he was approximately ten years old. He was just four years old when he told his father, during one of their regular pilgrimages to the neighborhood firehouse that he was going to be a firefighter when he grew up.  Thereafter however the Collins family crossed the river to the Jersey side, which is how the Bronx-born future member of the FDNY ended up completing grammar school at St. Matthias School in Somerset, New Jersey before matriculating his way on over to Immaculata High School in Somerville where he played defensive back and wide receiver on the football team.  I presume - although I do not know the answer - that he was a member of Immaculata's Raritan Valley Conference-winning team in either 1974 or 1975, which title was clinched due to the efforts of one of our cousins, John Kelleher, and his teammates from Mater Dei High School and their upset victory over St. Peter's (New Brunswick) High School. 

When he graduated from Immaculata he applied to both the NYPD and the FDNY.  The NYPD had the first opening and he took it.  He served the people of the City of New York as a member of the NYPD for close to five years.  Finally, in 1990, his boyhood dream was realized.  He joined the FDNY.  

For three years leading up to September 11, 2001, FF Collins trained other firefighters in the ins and outs of their chosen profession.  He was, by all accounts, an exceptional trainer and teacher.  He missed, however, doing that which he really loved:  fighting fires.  On September 6, 2001 he got himself transferred back to Ladder 25 in Manhattan.   

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, FF Collins was supposed to be filling in at another firehouse but before he could get there, the house to which he was headed was called out to respond to the Twin Towers.  So, when the call came for Ladder 25, FF Collins simply hopped on with six of his FDNY brothers and headed downtown into Hell.  

All seven of the members of Ladder 25 - Lt. Glenn C. Perry (41), FF Matthew Barnes (37), FF Kenneth Kumpel (42), FF Robert Minara (54), Joseph Rivelli (43), FF Paul Ruback (50) and FF Collins, at age 42 the oldest of the five Collins siblings - who answered the call that morning died.  They were killed while helping those who were trapped in the South Tower, which the second plane struck - at 9:03 am - and which collapsed less than an hour later at 9:59 am.  

It took several months but in the Spring of 2012, the body of FF Collins was recovered from Ground Zero.  His family, still missing him of course, was at least able to bury him, which not every family of every person killed on that terrible day was able to do.  

FF John Collins
IHS - Class of '76
FDNY - Ladder 25


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