The Firefighter: An American Hero
Pass by almost any firehouse in New York City. On the sidewalk outside, the candles flicker, the flowers—some wilted—are still there, as are the handwritten letters and scraps of poetry. People stop to pay their respects, to pray, to read through tear-filled eyes the names of the fallen—9 from Engine 33/Ladder 9 in lower Manhattan, 9 from Squad 1 in Brooklyn, 17 lost at Engine Company 54/Ladder 4 in midtown. From seasoned veterans—the oldest, First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan, was 72 years old with 42 years in the department—to fresh-faced rookies like 23-year-old Christopher Santora, they raced to the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, and in heartbreaking numbers, 341 died there doing their dangerous job. "Our firefighters," says New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "helped save more than 25,000 lives that day—the greatest single rescue mission in America's history."
Along with the roughly 3,000 civilians killed in the World Trade Center attacks, 60 police officers also died, as did 2 fire department paramedics and 3 court officers. Yet it is the firefighters, valiant warriors on a flame-filled vertical battlefield, who have taken on the mantle of legend, like the Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain or Leonidas's 300 Spartans holding the line at Thermopylae—the few, to paraphrase Churchill, giving so much for so many. "They knew what they were up against," says Giuliani, "but they went in anyway. That's what heroes do."
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