A fallen firefighter is honored
Area volunteers meet his family

BY MEREDITH FISCHER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Sep 28, 2002



When the smoke got too thick and the other firefighters couldn't find their way, Joe Spor Jr. would sing.

Through the darkness and the heat, everyone knew where he was. It was hard to be scared when you heard Spor's voice.

Stocky and strong, the 35-year-old Bronx native seemed invincible.

He seemed so untouchable that when Spor raced inside the South Tower of the World Trade Center, everyone swore he would make it out.

Spor was inside when the second plane hit. He died trying to evacuate others. They found his yellow helmet with the number 38, banged and burned, a couple of days later.

To his family, Spor has always been a hero.

To Chesterfield County firefighters, he's a brother.

Today, a handful of Clover Hill volunteer firefighters will join Spor's family in Montrose, N.Y.

The family is having a picnic there to thank everyone who sent cards, left dinners at the doorstep and donated money after Spor died. Catherine Van Drew, the oldest of Spor's five sisters and a resident of Colonial Heights, left for New York last night.

The Clover Hill volunteers are meeting her there today.

"I have never spoken to Joe's wife," said Valerie Proffitt, a Clover Hill volunteer firefighter who organized the trip. "I can't pretend to know what she is feeling. But I know how we feel."

Proffitt heard about Spor from Chesterfield Fire and EMS Chief Stephen A. Elswick.

The Clover Hill crew will surprise Spor's widow, Colleen Casey-Spor, with a $16,941 check this afternoon. Chesterfield residents donated the money to the crew during its annual fund drive.

"That money will make a difference for those four little kids," Elswick said. "They need to know that their father died living his dream."

For Proffitt, it's a symbol of volunteers reaching out to the families of professional firefighters who lost their lives. Many volunteer firefighters went to New York to help but were turned away, she said.

"We wanted to do this to say, career or not, we feel that brotherhood," she said. "We are equal in heart, even if we are not equal in pay."

Just three weeks before Sept. 11, Spor left Ladder Co. 38 to join Rescue 3, the station where his father, Joseph Spor Sr., had worked before retiring.

Rescue 3, in the Bronx, is known to get the most difficult calls.

Joe Spor was supposed to have Sept. 11 off but had switched shifts with a buddy. The crew was just about ready to call it quits when the first plane hit the North Tower. Someone said, "Hey Joe, do you want me to go?" Spor declined the offer and went on the call himself.

Shift change was at 9 a.m.

In addition to being a firefighter, Spor was a carpenter, another trade he learned from his father. The two were like carbon copies - they were even born on the same day.

Joe Jr. worked two jobs so his wife could stay home with the four children. In his off time, he worked on the house, a small white Cape Cod-style home in Somers, N.Y., that he was turning into a two-story Colonial.

He started building the addition just before he died, leaving his wife with four children and exposed walls.

"The other guys from the firehouse came and built the rest of it," Van Drew said.

For months, Colleen Casey-Spor didn't want to go outside.

She didn't want anyone to see her fall apart.

Every time a car pulled in the driveway, the children - Casey, 7, Joe, 5, Shannon, 3, and Caitlin, 1 - would race up to the window. They thought their dad had come home.

Sometimes, little Joe would sit in the living room for what seemed like hours and look at pictures of his father.

"One day, he asked, 'Is Daddy in heaven?'" Van Drew said. "Colleen told him he was. Then he asked if he was wearing his fireman's uniform."

Shannon, 2, worries when people leave her, especially her brother and sisters.

"Daddy told me he was coming home. He didn't come home," she told her mother.

Spor was the youngest in a big Irish Catholic family - five girls and him.

He worked on Wall Street for a while. But always knew he belonged in fireman's overalls. He joined the department in 1994.

While there is tremendous sadness for the Spor family, there is also gratitude. Joe's death has introduced them to people from across the country, even a small town called Anthony, Kan.

Like the volunteer firefighters from Chesterfield, the mayor of Anthony felt a connection to the Spors. Residents there raised $1,000 for the family and sent the children toys for Christmas.

Van Drew's co-workers in the trauma surgical ICU unit at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Hospitals made a $2,000 donation to the New York firefighters widow's fund in Joe's name. A neighbor wrote a poem and gave it to Van Drew. A local dance company where Van Drew's daughter took lessons started a collection for the family, as did folks at Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield.

"We can't thank these people enough," Van Drew said.

She said her family has no regrets.

Joe Spor might have continued to work on Wall Street. He might have stayed at Ladder Co. 38. He might have taken the day off on Sept. 11.

But that wasn't like him or the volunteer firefighters who have come to know him.

"I remember when he told my father he was going to Company No. 3. Joe had four little ones at home," Van Drew said. "My father had mixed feelings."

"But it didn't matter," she said. "It was what Joe wanted to do."



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