Brooklyn Firehouses Hit Hard
by Nancie L. Katz
Capt. Tom Giordano hopes Firefighter Joe Maffeo of Ladder 101 is eating the can of tuna fish he always carried in a pocket in case "he got stuck."
Fellow Firefighter Mike Mahoney at Engine 202 can't get the sound of falling bodies out of his head. His company counted 16 as it and Ladder 101 waited on opposite sides of Liberty St. for orders as debris rained down.
"We heard a big rumble. Stuff started to come down. We ran underneath a garage," Mahoney recounted. "People were jumping out of the buildings. I saw members of 101 go across the street. The last I know is they didn't run with us."
In a swath of 20 blocks just over the East River, spanning Red Hook to Brooklyn Heights, Battalion 32 lost 20 men including two crews from two ladder companies, among them the Fire Department's official singer.
Its crews beat rigs stuck in Manhattan traffic and were among the first to try to save lives after two hijacked jets slammed into the twin towers Sept. 11.
Gone from Ladder 101 are Maffeo, Sal Calabro, Terry McShane, Joseph Gullickson, Thomas Kennedy, Brian Cannizaro and Patrick Byrne.
Missing from Ladder 118 are Lt. Robert Regan, Leon Smith, Scott Davidson, Joey Agnello, Pete Vega and Vernon Cherry, whose fine singing voice could be heard at many department functions.
All but Byrne leave children behind.
Seven firefighters are gone from Engines 279 and 205, including 279 rookie Anthony Rodriguez, who was just getting off work and chose to go in. He never saw his newborn daughter, Hope, born Friday three days after he vanished.
Others missing from Engine 279 are Lt. Anthony Jovic, Mike Ragusa, Christian Regenhard, and Ronnie Henderson.
All of the firehouses were stocked with food from well-wishers. Flowers and candles adorned the sidewalks, and pictures and cards from school children dominated the walls. "We love our daddy!" said one poster, the preschool artwork of missing Red Hook Firefighter Bob Gulickson's daughters.
As they munched on donations, firefighters and families lovingly and jokingly recalled the missing comrades, but all refused to give up hope that they were still alive.
"We are talking in the present," said Firefighter John Sorrentino of Engine 205, as he pointed to photos of Leon Smith and Lt. Bob Wallace, and Capt. Marty Egan, who had been promoted from the firehouse. Smith often fixed the cars of neighbors and fellow firefighters.
Colleague Leaves a Void
"Hey, he better get back and fix my brakes. They're squeaking," Sorrentino joked. A photo display portrayed the men gone from Sorrentino's firehouse.
Near a battered truck at the firehouse holding Engine 279 and Ladder 131, Shirley Henderson can't understand how her missing firefighter husband Ronnie, 52, a father of four, could have survived 12 years in the Marines and eight years in the National Guard, only to be lost on his own soil.
"It doesn't seem real," said Henderson. "Ronnie fought in the Vietnam War ... and in Desert Storm. How do you walk away from two wars and have this happen here?"