He Served as 'a Firefighter's Sixth Sense'

December 4, 2001

Soft-spoken Battalion Chief Larry Stack was what fire department veterans call a fireman's fireman. The work was in his blood - his father, brother, brother-in-law, and son had all served in the New York City Fire Department. But Stack, 58, of Ronkonkoma, earned the moniker through his record, not his pedigree.

As chief in charge of the safety battalion, Stack held the lives of firefighters in his hands. He decided whether or not a building was safe to go into and was in charge of investing on-the-job fatalities. "He was a firefighter's sixth sense," said his son Michael, 32. "He was their second set of eyes."

He grew up in College Point and joined the fire department in 1967 after serving in Vietnam with the Navy. In a way, he went from fighting a war abroad to battling a different kind of war at home. Assigned to Ladder 107 in East New York, a neighborhood then troubled by rising crime, Stack learned his trade battling the blazes that ravaged the area in the late 1960s. It was a test he met with fortitude. "He was a quiet, gentle man with a great inner strength," said Teri Stack, his wife of 34 years.

Stack was the kind of man who would call home on a busy workday just to say hello. After his shift, "he came home exhausted," his wife said. "But he made time always for my family and me."

His handiwork is everywhere in the house where they raised their two sons: in the decorative woodwork, in the cathedral ceiling he put in, in the deck outside that he built. Stack's sons say he was never too tired to help Brian, now 30, with his soccer or to pitch warm-up balls to Michael before Little League games. Bonded by a shared sense of humor and a deep Catholic faith, the family remained close after the boys moved out, and enjoyed vacationing together at the Stacks' condo in Delray Beach, Fla.

By the time Stack was promoted to captain in 1981, he formed a second family, composed of the people he had worked with and trained at firehouses all over Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. "They lived, slept and ate together," said his wife, and were a team forged in danger, whose lives and families become further intertwined at barbecues and firehouse parties.

Just a few years away from retirement, Stack was looking forward to his upcoming leisure time and to being a first-time grandfather to Michael's daughter, Colleen, born Sept. 4. Instead, he became one of the fatalities it had been his job to investigate.

On Sept. 11, Stack was in Astoria working on the case of three firefighters who perished in a Father's Day fire. Hearing of the attacks on the World Trade Center, he rushed to the scene to direct firefighters to safety. He was doing his job on the ground floor of the north tower when it collapsed. His body has not yet been recovered.

In a twist of fate, two of the hijackers from the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania lived across the street from the Stacks' Florida condo.

"People ask me what do I want for Christmas?" said his son Michael. "I wish he was here. I wish we could bury him." He spent the month after the attacks - his daughter's first month of life - sifting through rubble and asking questions about his father's whereabouts at Ground Zero. "I know exactly where he was," he said. "But there's 110 floors on top of him."

As difficult as the last few months have been, the family is determined to stay strong. Last month Teri Stack hosted Thanksgiving dinner for her in-laws, as planned. "I want to follow through with everything we talked about," she said. "They took Larry's life, but they didn't take mine. I'm going to live, because I have so much to live for."

-- Jennifer Smith (Newsday)




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