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Category: Asset 8News & Views

“The firefighter – from Boyle to Brooklyn and beyond”

October 15, 2014

By Irish Echo

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Growing up in a small town of less than 2000 in the West of Ireland, my exposure to emergency services was limited.  However, the house I grew up in was located directly across from the local firehouse, or as we called it in Ireland, the fire station.  A few times a week, an unearthly siren howled through my house scaring the daylights out of me, especially during the dead of night.  It was in the days before cell phones so the siren would signal the firemen of the town to come to the fire station. Most fires were relatively un-serious: chimney fires or overheated car engines. One fire however stays embedded in my memory, early on Christmas Eve morning, a fire accelerated by Christmas tree lights destroyed the house two doors up from me, our local firemen tried desperately to save the family but the mother and her two young sons tragically lost their lives. 

Always a book lover, one of my first books was a flat hard backed book about a fire station; one colorful picture depicted the daily routine of the firemen sliding down the pole from their living quarters overhead.   For years I tried in vain to peek into the darkness of the Boyle fire station to see the pole but was never rewarded with as much as a glimpse. In later years I sadly realized there never was a pole as the fire station was a single storey building and my beloved book was probably based on a firehouse in Brooklyn, New York rather than in Boyle, Co Roscommon.

Ireland was the only foreign country to declare a national day of mourning, following 9/11. I spent much of that day with my class, we organized a local prayer service and I saw another side of my 35 boisterous boys. In the days, weeks and months following the tragedy and horror of 9/11, all of the paintings and drawings hanging on the walls of my classroom in Athlone, Co Westmeath depicted the bravery of the firemen and policemen of NYC.  These FDNY and NYPD officers had very quickly replaced the Superman, Spiderman, and Hollywood heroes of my 5th and 6th grade schoolboys.

In the freezing first days of January 2005, I moved to NYC where the Irish are intricately woven into the very fibers of the place and I quickly realized the extent of the Irish and Irish American extraordinary tradition of rushing to the aid of others in times of distress.  On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I found myself again in close proximity to a fire house, where I often stopped on the way home to silently offer a prayer for their lost members whose fading photographs adorned the windows. I hoped the glimmer from the melted novena candles symbolized some hope in this life for their loved ones left behind and in the next for the ones who were cruelly taken away.    

On the fateful day of 9/11, the FDNY lost 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics, there were 75 firehouses in which at least one member was killed. The FDNY also lost its department chief, first deputy commissioner, one of its marshals, one of its chaplains, the beyond saintly Mychal Judge whose parents came from Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim, as well as other administrative or specialty personnel. Shortly after the battalion chief of Battalion 1 witnessed American Airlines flight 11 crash into the North Tower, a multiple alarm incident was radioed. For the first time in over 30 years, all off duty firefighters were recalled. One off duty fire officer that day had swapped two twelve hour shifts with two colleagues so he could drop his mother to the airport for her return flight to Ireland. However on seeing the first tower burning from his rooftop, he immediately headed into Manhattan where he and his colleagues entered burning debris to pull out the trapped and injured. On that fateful day, Sean Cummins lost 87 colleagues, including the two men he swapped shifts with. I was honored to meet Sean recently at the Manhattan Club at the inaugural Irish Echo’s First Responder’s Awards where along with Niall O’Shaughnessy, he received the ‘Teamwork Award’.  

The daily sacrifice of  FDNY officers, more appropriately known as ‘The Bravest’ is staggering, never more so than on 9/11 when the waste of lives is still too much to bear. Thirteen years later, the sense of devastation is still palpable amongst the brothers of the FDNY. They along with the survivors of all the people who were lost on that fateful day are forever wounded. On a fateful fall day in 2001, ordinary men were asked to do extraordinary deeds. Some are still with us, some are not and we will never forget those who are not. Ar dheis Dhe go mbeidh a anam dhilis. 

Ag fás suas i mbaile beag le níos lú ná 2000 daoine in Iarthar na hÉireann, bhí mo tacaiocht den sheirbhísí éigeandála go leor teoranta. Mar sin féin,  bhi an teach a d’fhás mé suas I, lonnaithe go díreach trasna ón teach dóiteáin, nó mar a iarr muid é in Éirinn, on stáisiún dóiteáin. Cúpla uair sa tseachtain, chulathas siren minadurtha ag sileadh trí mo theach ag baineadh geit mor asam, is cuma cé chomh minic a chuala mé é, go háirithe le linn marbh na hoíche. Bhí sé sna laethanta roimh teileafóin phóca, ba comhartha e an siren, fir dóiteáin an bhaile chun teacht go dti an stáisiún dóiteáin. Bhí formhór na tinte sách unserious: tinte simléir nó innill gluaisteán ro the. Tine amháin, áfach, ata saite i m’aigne fos, go luath ar maidin Oíche Nollag, tine luathaithe ag soilse crann Nollag scriosta an teach dhá doirse suas uaim, rinne ár fir dóiteáin áitiúla gach iarracht an chlann a shábháil ach chaill an mháthair agus a bheirt mhac óg a saol.

I gcónaí i ngra le leabhar, bhí ar cheann de mo chéad leabhar leabhar árasán tacaíocht crua faoi stáisiún dóiteáin; pictiúr amháin ildaite a léirítear an ghnáthamh laethúil de na firemen sleamhnú síos an cuaille as a n-áitribh chónaithe lastuas. Ar feadh na mblianta, bhiodh mé ag peipeail isteach tri dorchadas an stáisiúin dóiteáin iMainistir na Buille chun an cuaille a fheiceáil  ach bhí riamh bronntar leis an oiread agus is le léargas. Sna blianta ina dhiaidh sin thuig mé brónach nach raibh cuaille ann riabh mar a bhí an stáisiún dóiteáin foirgneamh aon stór agus is dócha go raibh mo leabhar bunaithe ar teach dóiteáin i Brooklyn, Nua-Eabhrac seachas i Mainistir na Búille, Co Roscomáin.

 

Sa bhliain 2001, sna laethanta, seachtainí agus míonna tar éis an tragóid de 9/11, gach ceann de na pictiúir agus líníochtaí a bhi ag crochadh ar na ballaí de mo sheomra ranga i mBaile Átha Luain, Co na hIarmhí,  léirítear fir dóiteáin agus póilíní. Bhí na hoifigigh FDNY agus an NYPD ionad go han-tapa na laochra Superman, Spiderman, agus Hollywood mo buachilli scoile o ghrád  5 agus 6 ghrád.

Sa chéad lá ceomhar Eanáir 2005, d’astraigh mé go dtí Nua Eabhraic agus go tapa thuig méid an traidisiún urghnách Meiriceánach hÉireann ag brostaigh chun cabhair a thabhairt do dhaoine eile in am an anacair. Ar an Taobh Thoir Uachtarach de Manhattan, fuair mé mé féin arís i gheall ar chomh gar do theach dóiteáin, nuair a stop mé go minic ar an mbealach abhaile a chur ar fáil go ciúin paidir dá mbaill caillte agus a ngaolta a bhfuil a grianghraif cuireadh bród ar thaobh tosaigh an firehouse le mall coinneal Novena dhó.

Ar an fateful lá de 9/11, chaill an FDNY 341 comhraiceoirí dóiteáin agus 2 paraimhíochaineoirí, bhí 75 firehouses inar maraíodh comhalta amháin ar a laghad. An FDNY caillte chomh maith go bhfuil sé príomhfheidhmeannach roinn, coimisinéir leas-chéad, ar cheann de na sé ar marascail, ar cheann de na sé ar séiplíneach, an níos faide saintly Mychal Breitheamh a tháinig ó Ceis Charraigín, Co Liatroma do thuismitheoirí, chomh maith le pearsanra riaracháin nó speisialtachta eile. Go gairid i ndiaidh an príomhfheidhmeannach cathlán de Cathlán 1 chonaic American Airlines eitilt 11 tuairteála isteach sa Túr Thuaidh, bhí radioed teagmhas aláraim il, laistigh de na uair an chloig romhainn bhí 121 cuideachtaí inneall, 62 cuideachtaí dréimire agus 27 oifigigh dóiteáin imscaradh chun an ardán. Don chéad uair i níos mó ná 30 bliain, rinneadh athghairm ar gach comhraiceoirí dóiteáin ar dualgas.

Oifigeach dóiteáin amháin ar dualgas a bhí Mhalartaigh an lá sin dá déag shifts uair an chloig le dhá chomhghleacaithe sin d’fhéadfadh sé titim a mháthair leis an aerfort as a eitilt ar ais go hÉirinn. Ach ar féachaint ar an túr chéad dó as a rooftop, i gceannas sé láithreach i Manhattan áit curtha isteach sé féin agus a chomhghleacaithe a dhó smionagar a tharraingt amach na gafa agus gortaithe. Ar an lá sin fateful, chaill Sean Cummins 87 chomhghleacaithe, lena n-áirítear an bheirt fhear bhabhtáil sé shifts leis. Ba mhór an onóir dom bualadh Sean déanaí ag an Club Manhattan ag Gradaim Echo hÉireann Chéad Fhreagróir ar tionscnaimh nuair a fuair sé an? Gradam do?. Ar lá Titim chinniúnach i 2001, iarradh ngnáthnós fir a dhéanamh gníomhais neamhghnách. Tá cuid acu fós le linn, nach bhfuil roinnt, agus ní bheidh muid dearmad iad siúd nach bhfuil. Ar dheis Leitir dul mbeidh ar dhilis trá.

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