9/11 firefighter funerals, then and now

Call it irony, call it life's randomness, call it what you like, but my personal 9/11 road is a strange and winding one

I don't think I would get much of an argument saying that Sept. 11, 2001 was the darkest day in the history of the fire service. Three hundred and forty three brave firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice saving thousands of people that day.

A month later I was in New York City helping to fill the ranks at funerals. It was a very sad time coupled with the stresses of two funerals a day.

I had some memorable experiences however. My first funeral was on Staten Island for a member of Rescue Company 1.

Each funeral was the same drill. We formed up lines as the casket and mourners entered the facility, then reformed when the mourners and casket left the facility for the cemetery.

During the wait between the two stages, I was milling around when an NYPD squad pulled up. The officer in a true New York accent yelled to me with the traditional East Coast greeting of "Hey Buddy."

He explained that there was another funeral up the road and they needed more people. Remember, the FDNY was having two funerals a day and still mitigating the World Trade Center scene — so resources were stretched thin.  

I was with a group and at that moment I saw none of them. So I opened the door and got in the police car. In the car were firefighters from different parts of the country. We zoomed off into Staten Island soon arriving at a church.

Making a vow
The group I was with somehow arrived at the same church soon after. After the funeral we walked down the block to a firehouse we had passed. I don't remember the engine but it was 82 Truck.

I ate the best pasta e fagioli soup I have ever eaten to this day. I was chatting with one of the truck people and casually asked if they sold ball caps similar to the one he was wearing.

He took the cap off his head and handed it to me. I refused it but he insisted. I still have it; although it is a just a ball cap, it is a treasured possession.

As the years passed I vowed that someday I was going to participate in the 9/11 memorial stair climb. I finally got around to it last year in Indianapolis. I used our drill tower to train in advance of the climb.

When the big day arrived I showed up early to sign in. At the sign-in table I was asked if I had a specific person or company in mind to climb for.

I gazed at the table full of name badges and photos and said, "No, just hand me one." The rep looked away, felt around until he touched a name badge and promptly handed it to me.

Climbing with Stack
I had drawn Chief Lawrence Stack of Safety Battalion 1. As I looked at the badge and photo, Lawrence had a worried look that I fully understood. I'm sure he was thinking, "This clown will never make 110 floors without defibrillation."

A bagpipe band played as we waited in line to start up the stairs. Randolph Mantooth, aka Emergency!'s Johnny Gage, was there shaking hands. FDNY firefighters who were present at the Twin Towers that tragic day were also wishing us well.

I can proudly report Chief Stack and I made all 110 floors without stopping. I did suck down a couple of bottles of water during the climb.

So imagine my surprise last month when I strolled through the day room at the station and on CNN of all things was a story on the funeral of Chief Lawrence Stack. Let me explain.

Chief Stack, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, was working on a LODD report when the planes hit the towers. He immediately responded to the scene.

On the Brooklyn Bridge he called his wife and told her he loved her and not to make dinner. He then proceeded on to his destiny.

A hero's end
Chief Stack was caught in the first collapse and had to wiggle out of his coat to free himself. However, he then went on to rescue a trapped lieutenant helping him and another lieutenant to safety.

During the rescue Chief Stack came across a trapped businessman from Iowa. Chief Stack went back to aid the businessman and ordered everyone else out. Nothing was ever found of Chief Stack. I have to believe he knew he wasn't going to get out.

Chief Stack's family held out all these years for hope that some of the remains that were found would be indentified as his through DNA testing, but it never happened. Finally, a couple vials of blood that the chief had given to aid a sick youngster were found.

It was just what was needed. The funeral came off with full fire department honors. The funeral was held on what would have been Lawrence and Theresa Stack's 49th wedding anniversary.

I did pretty well for a random pick. In my book, everybody who died that day was a hero and Chief Stack certainly fit that description.

Let me hear from you.

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