Stephen Harrell, 44, FDNY lieutenant, gifted musician

He loved his family, his job and making music, and was loved for his sense of humor, quick wit and kind heart


Saturday, October 06, 2001
By ALYSHA SIDEMAN
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER


His family came first, but Stephen Harrell had two other loves -- firefighting and music.

When he attended the funeral of another firefighter, he was so moved he wrote a song about it. The lyrics were about the people and children the fireman left behind.

Ironically, it is now a song about his own family.

As the lieutenant on duty Sept. 11 at Ladder Co. 10, located across from the World Trade Center, Mr. Harrell and his fellow firefighters were some of the first to respond to Tower 1 after it was attacked.

He is now listed among the missing. Reports placed him in the center staircase of Tower 1, somewhere between the 30th and 40th floors.

Compounding the hardship for his family, his older brother, Harvey, 49, a lieutenant with Rescue Co. 5, Concord, is also missing.

Mr. Harrell's dream was to have one of his songs recorded professionally said his wife, Meghan. Fortunately, he made amateur recordings of many of his songs and some of his friends are now trying to make that dream come true.

"Having a part of him -- even if it is just his voice -- really helps. It will help to carry on his memory for our daughter. It gives me something tangible to hold on to," Mrs. Harrell said.

Writing songs was cathartic for Mr. Harrell and now listening to them will be for his wife and his daughter.

"He saw a lot of people pass away in his lifetime. This is how he dealt with it," Mrs. Harrell added. And his musical talents weren't just confined to singing and songwriting.

As a young man, he took music classes at the College of Staten Island, and later he filled his home and surrounded his wife with all kinds of music -- and three pianos.

"He was a wonderful musician. There wasn't an instrument he couldn't pick up and play by ear. He played the saxophone, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, baritone horn and piano," she said.

On their wedding day, he sang Eric Clapton's classic "Wonderful Tonight" to his wife in front of all the guests.

Born in Plant City, Fla., he was brought to Midland Beach before his first birthday, and moved to Westerleigh in 1993 as a newlywed. After seven years there, the couple settled in Warwick, N.Y.

A 15-year veteran of the Fire Department, Mr. Harrell, 44, was the officer on duty with "probies" on Sept. 11. His career choice may have been prompted by his older brother, Harvey, but firefighting was also in his blood.

"They were six in the family, including Stephen, and all very close. He was best friends with Harvey and Dave," said Mrs. Harrell. "But he was always helping people. It was part of his personality. He was also fearless. He was a natural [firefighter]."

Before he was promoted to lieutenant in 1998, he had worked as a firefighter in Brooklyn at Ladder Co. 122, Engine Co. 255 and Ladder Co. 157.

"Stephen was not only my brother, he was one of my lifelong best friends, along with my other brother, Lt. Harvey Harrell Jr. -- who I call Buddy -- who also perished in the World Trade Center that day," said David Harrell. "We were all close in age and closer in life. We grew up together, we became men together and we stayed together. I don't know if we were more like the Three Musketeers or the Three Stooges, but we were three together, forever."

Before Stephen Harrell's daughter, Holly Rae, was born, he was a member of many rock 'n' roll bands -- singing and playing the saxophone. After she came along, he wrote songs about her and sang to her. He continued to perform for special occasions, including every family wedding and at Fire Department benefits.

Mr. Harrell played the baritone horn for the New York City Skyliners Drum and Bugle Corps. He once performed a solo of "Tonight" from "West Side Story" in Roosevelt Field, L.I.

"Stephen was my inspiration in music," said his sister, Cynthia Casserly. "I plan to play one of his favorite songs, 'Amazing Grace,' on my bagpipes at his memorial."

Mr. Harrell was an avid skier and took part in the Firemen's Ski Races at Hunter Mountain for many years. He also skied at resorts in Canada, and enjoyed golf and basketball.

"In his young days, he spent many a night playing basketball and football anywhere he and his friends could find an empty lot. It was not about competition or winning. It was about friendship, fun and laughs," added his brother, David.

Mr. Harrell had a very close relationship with Holly Rae, now 7, and coached her soccer team.

"She embodies everything that is good about Stephen, and that is a whole lot. He was an original. He had an abundance of friends who loved his sense of humor, quick wit and kind heart. A wonderful father and husband, he will always be in our hearts," said Mrs. Harrell.

In addition to his wife, the former Meghan Truppa; his daughter, Holly Rae; his brother, David, and his sister, Cynthia, surviving are his parents, Miriam and Harvey Lee Harrell Sr.; another brother, William, and another sister, Barbara Lee Harrell