THE FIREHOUSE OF LIBERTY STREET

The Rochester Post-Bulletin
October 13, 2001


By Doug McGill

At Ground Zero, New York -- The news about the little brick firehouse at the corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets, located just across the street from Tower Two of the World Trade Center, is what finally got to me.

Iíd watched the whole tragedy and the aftermath, the sickening kamikaze flights into pristine glass towers followed by the endless TV interviews with surviving widows and children and traumatized rescue workers, in the kitchen of my home in downtown Rochester.

But Iíd not cried. And somehow it didnít seem real.

Iíd felt anger, thatís true, and Iíd boarded airplanes without the slightest twinge of fear, instead almost spoiling to personally fight with a
terrorist.

But Iíd not shed tears. It was as if the reality of 9/11 hadnít truly sunk in, hadnít yet reached me deeply and personally. Was this event so big it was simply beyond personalizing, like a comet smashing into earth? Thatís just fate, thereís no crying over that. Or was something wrong with me? Where was my empathy, I wondered? Where was my sadness? My grief?

                                  
Like a Mountain

My emotional blankness was all the more puzzling because until just one year ago, Iíd lived in New York City and worked in a building only three blocks south of the World Trade Center. The bastards who destroyed the South Tower had executed a graceful banking turn just over the dock where ferries embark for the Statue of Liberty, then flown due north following Greenwich Street, directly over my old office building, on their approach into Tower Two. I used to look up at Tower Two from my desk, cursing how it blocked our buildingís view while also marveling at its awesome size and austere beauty. Itís permanence like a great mountain.

The firehouse, Engine Co. 10 and Ladder Co. 10, was home to 50 firemen. They kept the garage door open and two or three of them were always around the front of the station, polishing the engine, talking to passersby, posing with tourists, sharing neighborhood gossip. I knew several of them well enough to exchange daily greetings, a smile and a hello, on my way to and from work.

They were the nicest guys Ė friendly, open, strong, handsome.


                                 A Second Murder

In the four weeks after the attack, the hardest thought for me was to think of these specific firemen pushing to the top of the towers, only to be crushed or burned alive. The thought that the little firehouse itself was most probably obliterated was to me even more disturbing. I had nightmares of a smoldering emptiness where the firehouse had stood,
for weeks after the attack. It was as if the murder of the firehouse would be an even greater crime than killing its men, because it would be a kind of second murder.

This second murder would kill not only the men but also the memory of them, or at least the public symbol of their lives, thus vanquishing them entirely.

As if theyíd never been. Never been heroes. Or fathers. Or neighbors.

Maybe thatís why I finally burst into tears yesterday when, having traveled to New York to try to make this great tragedy somehow tangible and real, my first thought was to get as close as I could to the firehouse.

                                Liberty & Greenwich

But Ground Zero itself is being treated as a crime site -- "the site of 6,000 murders," is the oft-repeated phrase -- so there is a guarded
perimeter of blue police barricades extending four or five blocks around on all sides.

Not being able to see the firehouse for myself, or at least see its remains, I approached one of the policemen behind the barricade.

"Can you tell me about the little firehouse at the corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets?" I asked the cop.

"Itís hurting but itís there," the cop said. And my tears just flowed.

"There are flowers and photographs in front," the cop continued. "They lost a lot of men. But some are still in there working."

The cop saw the tears in my eyes, tears of pure relief, gratitude, even a kind of joy. I wanted to ask him more questions but I couldnít.


                                          Beautiful Day

"Thank you so much," I said and turned to go. The cop reached out his hands and held mine in his.

"Take good care of yourself, and enjoy the beautiful day," he said. I could see his eyes were brimming too.

That gesture of caring and solidarity, the tear in the copís eye as well as mine, were all so very real to me yesterday under the clear blue sky.


Copyright @ 2001 Doug McGill

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