MANHATTAN — Two days before Christmas, four students from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, Hicksville, ventured into New York City to thank firefighters for their sacrifices on 9/11.
The four seniors, riding in a small school bus driven by Ann-Marie Hoher, Trinity director of recruitment and public relations, visited five firehouses with the largest number of firefighters lost responding to terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001.
To firehouses on Staten Island, Brooklyn, and here, the students brought teddy bears for family members of firefighters who died that day. Each bear wears a sweater with the words: “Somebody at Trinity loves me.”
The students also made banners proclaiming “Bear Hugs for New York’s Bravest. Thanks for All You Do. You’re in Trinity’s Prayers,” for each of the firehouses they visited. The students also brought a card for each firehouse signed by many Trinity students.
The idea was proposed by Trinity student Stephanie Girards, a parishioner of St. Anthony’s Church, Oceanside. “I was in second grade on Sept. 11 and I don’t really remember much about it.” For the 10th anniversary, she did research and was moved by the stories and the sacrifice of so many firefighters.
She approached the school’s advancement office about making an outreach to the firehouses that suffered the most losses. Hoher found the idea intriguing and helped her organize. Soon, other students got involved.
They set out Dec. 23. The other students were Tom Jakubowski, Maria Regina Church, Seaford; Leah Nicolich, St. Christopher’s, Baldwin; and Colleen Conaty, St. William the Abbot, Seaford.
“It was an adventure,” said Stephanie. The group traveled first to Staten Island and then to Brooklyn, but faced delays, diversions and difficulties in getting across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan.
On arriving here, they went to the Rescue One on West 43 St., but the firefighters were out on a call. So they headed to Engine 54 on Eighth Avenue, where several of the firefighters, including Lieutenant James Kirby, an 11-year veteran, spoke with them.
Kirby, who was serving with another company on Sept. 11, seemed especially moved by the students’ interest.
“What did you learn from your research?” he asked Stephanie. He was pleased that she knew 343 firefighters died that day.
“Do you know what 343 firefighters mean?” Kirby asked the students. “That was a fifth of the firefighters who were working that day.”
As a son of a firefighter, Kirby continued, the casualties included friends of his father, ”guys I went to probie school (training program for firefighters) with,” and other friends. Several of his friends were among the firefighters trapped in the stairwell of one of the towers who eventually got out.
At the same time, thousands of people were saved by the efforts of the firefighters, Kirby said, including people cleared from sections of the second tower who did not realize that the first tower had been attacked.
“I’m glad to see that New Yorkers are interested in taking the time to come here,” Kirby said, especially young people. Just as his father taught him growing up to remember Dec. 7, 1941, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he hopes people will remember 9/11.
When they went back to Rescue One, the company was just returning from a call and several firefighters talked with them and showed them around the station, including Sean Cummins and Glen Bullock from East Quogue, who were also impressed with the students.
Another emergency call sent the company on their way again and the bus headed back for Long Island.
Hoher praised the students for the project, calling it “above and beyond” what students are generally called upon to do. “I’m not surprised because any time we have asked Trinity students to do something for the community they have always come through.”
She is especially happy that the students got to talk with firefighters and hear their stories. “Now, they will feel connected to the events of Sept. 11.”