A Firefighter Who Simply Followed His Own Path

March 15, 2002

James Coyle was utterly impervious to the opinions of others. Last year, the 6-foot-2 firefighter enrolled in ballet classes at the YMCA in Manhattan, a somewhat unusual move for the oldest son in a "man's man" family of firemen, cops and court officers. He did it, he said, to meet girls. "By the fourth class, it's OK to make a move," Coyle, 28, told his mother.

Self-assured and single- minded, Coyle "wasn't a leader, and he wasn't a follower," said his mother, Regina Coyle of Brooklyn. He simply followed his own path.

His roommates in Bensonhurst knew him as the life of the party, but as a child growing up in Marine Park he was quiet, even shy. Still, even then, "if he made up his mind," his mother said, "you just couldn't sway him."

On this one point, Coyle was firm: He was going to be a firefighter.

A snapshot of Coyle at age 2 shows him sporting the fire helmet of Capt. Patrick Brown, a family friend who ended up supervising Coyle years later when he was a probationary firefighter at Ladder Co. 3 in the East Village.

"In all the pictures we have ... he's wearing the fire helmet, he's got the toy fire truck," said his sister, Katie Coyle of Brooklyn.

His mother, herself the daughter and daughter-in-law of firefighters, put it this way: "It's a very special brotherhood that firefighters have. You either want it or you don't. He wanted it very badly."

After high school, Coyle dropped out of academic studies at Brooklyn College to enroll in a new EMT training program that served as a pathway to the fire department, and graduated as valedictorian of his class.

To prepare for the physically demanding firefighting exam, the lean Brooklynite ran daily and dropped soda from his diet. His younger brother, Joseph, "was a much more natural athlete, but James was the one you wanted on your team because he would dive on the floor for the ball," his mother said.

Coyle had been at Ladder Co. 3 for just 10 months when the company was called to the trade center Sept.11. Both he and Brown died that day.

His mother - whose other son, Joseph, will take the firefighting exam this year - finds comfort in Coyle's fulfilling his dream, if only for 10 months.

"I'm so glad he got a chance," she said, "to do what he wanted to do."

-- Jennifer Smith (Newsday)