Firefighters find keeping busy helps ease pain of loss

By Lincoln Anderson

Three-hundred forty-three firefighters died on 9/11. While the wounds aren’t as fresh as at last year’s anniversary, they will never vanish.

Local fire houses planned to mark the time of the attacks with memorial Masses and moments of silence.

At Squad 18 on W. 10th St. off of Greenwich Ave., firefighters said the two-year anniversary hadn’t really sunk in yet. Last Friday the specialized “haz-mat”/rescue squad had had a routinely busy morning of runs for a couple of trash fires and to provide E.M.S. assistance.

Richard Naviasky was spray-painting some tubing and light-switch covers white for the lights for the firehouse’s 9/11 memorial, which will be dedicated Saturday with the family members of the seven firefighters the squad lost in the disaster. It includes the images of the firefighters etched in black granite and individual brass plaques.

Naviasky had been a probationary firefighter in Queens and on his day off on 9/11, when he responded to help put out the flames on the burning pile of wreckage.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t have much thoughts about it,” he said. “It’ll be the day before or the day of it. I’m sure it’ll come flooding back.”

Naviasky, who lost his best friend in the collapse, spent three months working in the rubble as part of the search and recovery effort.

Pat Kelly is a veteran member of the squad, one of the few left after 9/11. He was being relieved after his shift at the firehouse on Lafayette St., where they were based during renovations of their firehouse, when he jumped on the “rig” to head down to ground zero. Who from the truck survived, Kelly was asked. “Me,” he said succinctly.

The six others and another squad member who had jumped on the squad’s other vehicle all perished when Tower 1 came down. Kelly survived because he went up a different stairwell since the one his squad mates took was too crowded, and then had carried someone out.

He was down on the trade center’s plaza when Tower 2, the first to fall, imploded. He jumped into a broken window of W.T.C. 6 and was covered in darkness and debris. He had to throw up to clear his airway.

A call came in as he spoke last week. Kelly ripped the paper off the printer.

“Transit,” he announced. “Fourteenth and Seventh. Southbound.”

The firefighters suited up, jumped on their truck and headed out to respond. They didn’t find a subway track fire but did put out a burning trashcan they chanced upon on Charles St.

“That helps,” Kelly said upon returning about just keeping busy. “It helped a lot after 9/11.”

He said he initially dealt with a “lot of guilt” at having survived, which only eased after he talked to the sister of Manny Mojica, one of the lost firefighters, another veteran of the squad.

“I don’t know what she said, but just talking to her made a difference,” he said. “I miss ’em all.”