State honors firefighter death toll on Sept. 11

Associated Press Writer

October 8, 2002, 5:46 PM EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A ceremony Tuesday near the state Capitol honored 366 firefighters who died in the line of duty _ most of them during the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center towers.

The names, read in alphabetical order, included 343 New York City Fire Department firefighters and four World Trade Center fire safety staff who died Sept. 11, 2001. Twelve other firefighters from New York City and Broome, Chautauqua, Niagara, Oneida and Orleans counties died last year in tragedies unrelated to the attacks. Seven other names were added from previous years, the earliest from 1866.

"Each firefighters' story is unique. Each had a family who loved him," said Gov. George Pataki, whose father was a volunteer firefighter in Peekskill in Westchester County. "Our obligation to each of these men is to remember what they did, and to remember our debt ... We regret that heroism comes at such great a price."

The annual ceremony increased the total number of names on the state Fallen Firefighters Memorial, dedicated in 1998, to 2,241. About 1,100 firefighters and family members attended the observance.

The memorial is on the Empire State Plaza near the state Capitol.

Last October, the state recognized 30 fallen firefighters _ five who died in 2000. Planning for Tuesday began immediately afterward, said Jim Burns, state fire administrator with the Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

"I'm relieved," he said when the ceremony ended. He wore a laminated photo of former FDNY chaplain Mychal Judge around his neck. "This has been a year of memorials and funerals. It zaps your strength."

But Tuesday's was not the last memorial. A service Saturday at Madison Square Garden will honor New York's Bravest, the 343 who died in the attacks, as well as seven others killed in the line of duty since October 2000.

"The families are wore out," said Paul Melfi, deputy fire chief in Olean, who lost half a dozen friends when the twin towers collapsed. "But it's important for them to see how important their fathers and husbands were."

Theresa Stack, whose husband Lawrence Stack rushed to the twin towers though he was not slated to work that day, feels it her duty to attend every memorial that honors him. Stack, a firefighter for 34 years, was a battalion chief in Queens. His two sons, also FDNY firefighters, worked at ground zero for three weeks after the attacks, hoping, unsuccessfully, to recover their father's remains, Theresa Stack said.

"Wherever my husband's name is, that's where I'll be," said the Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island, resident. "I want to keep his name alive."

Last month, she traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., to attend the International Association of Fire Fighters ceremonies. "I cry a lot, but I'm a strong person," she said, clutching a red rose.

"The Firefighters' Creed," the memorial's official anthem, followed the reading of names, which lasted for 30 minutes. The song, performed on guitars, a fiddle, bodhran drum and bagpipes, included a new stanza, written by composer Tim Murphy to reflect the terrorist attacks.