Future Firemen Await Their Dad's Return

September 21, 2001

When a fire burned the Gies home to the foundation two years ago, people throughout Merrick, including local volunteer firefighters, helped the family rebuild the two-story, five-bedroom home from scratch in six months.

Ronnie Gies, 43, a New York City firefighter since 1988 and a 25-year veteran of the Merrick Fire Department, was unaccustomed to getting help, said his wife, Carol. "It was very hard to be at the receiving end because he's so used to being the giver."

Last week, while working overtime, Gies, from Squad Co. 288, rushed from the Maspeth, Queens firehouse to the World Trade Center, arriving before the towers collapsed.

Gies and 18 others from his firehouse have not returned.

The children unexpectedly saw their father arrive on the scene while watching an amateur video of the disaster broadcast recently on television.

The family obtained a copy of the video and has watched it again and again. At one point, about 40 people who know Ronnie Gies gathered around the television set to view the footage.

"You see him straight on, carrying equipment with such a look of determination," said Carol Gies, 40. "He didn't have fear on his face."

The video showing her husband's determination consoles her. "He looked calm," she said. "He was looking up as if: 'OK, boys. Let's do it.'"

The video even comforted Carol's 5-year-old nephew. "See Auntie Carol," the youngster said. "I told you my Uncle Ronnie was OK."

Later, Carol clenched a photo of her husband on the scene of another fire. Staring at it, she said: "You see that same determination."

"He was special," Carol said. "Every one of those New York City firemen are special. They're heroes."

All the Gies children hope to become firemen - either full time or volunteer.

Tommy, 18, has wanted to be a fireman ever since he was old enough to realize what his father did. Two days before the terrorist attacks, he visited his father at Squad Co. 288 and had dinner with the firefighters.

"He is the guy I'm going to look up to for the rest of my life, whether he comes home or not," Tommy said. "He's my idol. ... I hope that I'll be able to follow in his footsteps.

"To see the brotherhood that's going on right now makes me want to be a member of the fire department twice as much as I ever wanted to be," he said.

As a reporter left the Gies home, Tommy yelled out: "Hopefully, he'll be home. You can interview him."

Bobby, 13, whom his mother calls a "daddy's boy," hopes to become a junior fireman in Merrick. The youngest in the family, he always accompanied his father, whether washing the car, trekking to The Home Depot or visiting the firehouse around the corner.

"He was, like, my best friend," Bobby said. "I helped him build the house."

Gies' son, Ronnie John, 16, the captain of Friendship Engine & Hose Explorer Post 643, plans to become a volunteer fireman when he turns 18.

Ronnie Gies also coaches a baseball team of 17- and 18- year-olds. The team made the playoffs this year. "He taught me pretty much everything I know about baseball," Ronnie John said.

The family hasn't planned a memorial. They're just waiting.

"Until somebody tells me it's 100 percent over and all hope is up, I don't know what to do," Carol said. "I just hope it doesn't resort to DNA. That would break my heart."

In the Gies' basement, a plaque with the Fireman's Prayer adorns one wall. It ends:

And if according to your will

I have to lose my life

Bless with your protecting hands

My children and my wife.

Looking at the poem, Carol said: "I never knew this would be for me.

"Ronnie always said when he was to go, this was the way to go, and he knew it," Carol said. "He would obviously give his life for others.

"My hero, definitely my hero," she said. "There's nothing I wouldn't do to have my hero here."

--Richard J. Dalton, Jr. (Newsday)