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The ties that bind: 3 new FDNY members following in footsteps of fathers killed on the job

Andrew Gorumba and ‘9/11 legacies’ Jonathan Otten and Gary Watson graduate Wednesday from the FDNY Fire Academy


Photo/New York Daily News

Larry McShane
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The trio were just kids 20 years ago when their FDNY fathers died: Two during the 9/11 terrorist attack, and the third only a few days earlier while on the job.

Sons Jonathan Otten, Gary Watson and Andrew Gorumba will proudly join the Class of 2021 in graduating Wednesday from the FDNY Fire Academy, with each inspired by their heroic dads and determined to follow in their footsteps as members of the department that embraced all three in the dark days after their fathers passed away.

“Since I came into the academy, I’ve done this for him,” said namesake son Gary Watson, 28. “He helped me push through on the tough days. For the rest of my career, I’ll be doing this for him, to make him proud.”

Watson and Otten, also 28, are the 9/11 legacies joining the department, while Gorumba’s dad died Aug. 28, 2001, from a heart attack while battling a three-alarm blaze at a Staten Island auto body shop. He was just 27, and Andrew recalls how the crew from Engine 163 welcomed him as one of their own after the tragedy.

“The firehouse guys always invited me to their Christmas parties,” said Gorumba, who was just a 2-year-old when Micheal Gorumba collapsed and died. “I grew up around the firehouse.”

Like Watson, Gorumba said his father’s memory was a constant presence during the years leading up to Wednesday’s event.

“Every day I came to the academy, the toughest days, I would think about it,” he said. “He was the main reason that kept me going, and why I am doing this.”

Otten said he never considered another career, noting the 20th anniversary added an extra touch to the ceremony.

“The anniversary made it maybe more special,” he said. “It’s good to be joining the family of the FDNY. I’ve seen it’s a real brotherhood, and to join brings us full circle.”

Michael Gorumba was the youngest of the three dads killed in the line of duty back in 2001. Otten, a third-generation firefighter, died at age 42, while Watson was killed at age 39.

The younger Watson, who was an 8-year-old on 9/11, recalled how his dad’s colleagues at Engine 214 continued to take him on company camping trips every summer after the World Trade Center tumbled and killed 343 firefighters.

He returned to the firehouse this year for the 9/11 anniversary, where he was welcomed as always.

“That meant a lot to me, that they kept me in the family,” he reflected. “It doesn’t feel like it’s 20 years. It feels like it was just yesterday. It’s tough every single year. But it’s getting a little bit better.”

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