Neither Sharks Nor Fire Scared Him

January 31, 2002

When firefighter Thomas Richard Kelly said that he was going scuba diving in a shark tank at Atlantis Marine World, Robert Kelly thought his younger brother was pulling his leg. Then he realized he was serious. "I thought he was out of his mind," his brother said.

But soon family members were watching Thomas Kelly, who volunteered at the Riverhead aquarium around the time of its opening two years ago, swimming around with the sharks. The demonstration was designed to show that not all sharks are dangerous.

Thomas Kelly, 39, grew up in Ozone Park, just three blocks from Ladder Co. 142, the station where his father, Emmet Kelly, worked. The family regularly spent summers in Riverhead. Thomas went to St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows and earned a bachelor's degree at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Like his big brother Robert, of Freeport, Thomas was a fan of the Mets. (They were at a bachelor party for middle brother James in 1986 when the ball rolled between Bill Buckner's legs in the sixth game of the World Series.) The three brothers also used to pile into a van for road trips to Grateful Dead concerts up and down the East Coast. "The Dead was our band of choice," Robert recalled.

Thomas Kelly worked as an emergency medical technician but later shifted to the FDNY, following his father and oldest brother. James Kelly, of Massapequa, recently retired from the New York Police Department as a detective. The youngest of the siblings is their sister, Jean Farrell of Boca Raton, Fla.

Thomas Kelly worked at Ladder Co. 105 in Park Slope, a company known as the "Dean Street Heroes." Within the department, though, its nickname is "West Point," because so many of its members rise through the ranks. Kelly was set to be one of them after passing the lieutenant's exam. Robert Kelly said his brother is due to be promoted posthumously. Ladder 105 lost six firefighters in the terrorist attacks. Thomas Kelly was last seen going into the south tower shortly before it collapsed.

In recent years, he had bought a house in Riverhead near his father and mother, Sue Kelly, and had taken up bicycle riding. Last summer he went on the 375-mile fund- raising ride for AIDS research between Boston and New York. In one online tribute, Linda Friedl-Florio of Massapequa Park recounted how Kelly had dropped back to assist her daughter who was unable to continue because of an injury. "He was a hero to me then," she wrote, "and an even bigger hero to me now."

-- Ken Schachter (Newsday)