Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soon, all will see true heroism & decency, by Michael Daly,

February 10, 2002, New York Daily News, Soon, all will see true heroism & decency, by Michael Daly,

Out of the long black limousine stepped a man who will soon be impressing millions of television viewers as no actor or politician or any other celebrity ever could.

He was wearing a dress fire chief's uniform, and the brass nameplate that glinted on his chest identified him as one of the two Pfeifers who served in the department on Sept. 11.

He is Joe. The other was his brother, Kevin, a fire lieutenant whose flag-covered coffin was now being carried into St. Margaret's Church in Middle Village, Queens.

Joe had last seen his brother alive in the lobby of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Joe was the first chief on the scene, and he was at the command post when Kevin strode in with Engine Co. 33.

"We spoke a little bit, and then he went up also," Joe later said.

As Kevin ascended toward hell, Joe continued working the command post. Joe happened to be accompanied that day by a French documentary filmmaker. They had been videotaping at the site of a suspected gas leak on Lispenard St. when the first jetliner roared overhead and struck the north tower.

The filmmaker raced to the World Trade Center with Joe and kept the camera rolling through all that followed.

Copies of the tape have been circulating in firehouses for months. Joe is seen being exactly the fire officer his comrades have always known him to be, impeccably professional at the epicenter of the worst disaster in the country's history.

The footage will be shown on CBS on March 10, and all of America will see that calling firefighters heroes is an understatement. The viewers also will understand that this was not the recklessness of the Light Brigade, but the bravery of men calmly doing the very best they can against terrifying odds.

The viewers will hear the explosions as jumpers strike the pavement outside and see closeups of the firefighters' faces, their grim concern making their courage all the more remarkable.

Recently found

In the footage, radios and phones fail and people are trapped in elevators and a report comes that another plane might be headed in. Not one firefighter falters for so much as a single, pounding heartbeat.

Had another camera been up in the tower with Kevin, the tape would have recorded him directing other firefighters to safety when he could have just fled for his own life. That camera then would have been pulverized as the 110-story tower collapsed around a Pfeifer who had by all reports been at least as cool and brave as Joe.

Kevin's remains were not recovered until last Sunday. Yesterday morning, the bagpipe band that has played at more than 300 funerals played at his.

The news cameras were there because Mayor Bloomberg was attending a fire funeral, having missed the first five since he took office. Nobody should have been there for any other reason than to pay homage to Kevin Pfeifer and his family.

His mother and father stepped from the limousine behind the caisson and then Joe emerged into the sunshine. He placed a reassuring hand on his father's back as they entered the church.

After the mayor spoke, Joe stepped up and described carrying his brother's remains out of the ruins six days before. He rode alone with Kevin in the back of an ambulance to the morgue.

"After a lot of tears just sitting there, I remembered all the good times we had together," Joe said, "and this feeling of horror gave way to a feeling of peace."

He had looked out the back of the ambulance to see his brother's company, Engine 33, following, a reminder of how the Fire Department has always faced the most mortal danger.

"Not as individual heroes but as a family of brothers," Joe said.

His voice will soon be familiar to millions of TV viewers, but in the Trade Center footage, you might not immediately identify a quality that the ear detects under the cool courage.

Fundamentally good

In the sanctuary of this simple church across 80th St. from St. John's Cemetery, you knew that underlying quality is his decency. More than anything else, Joe Pfeifer is decent, as uncommonly so as Kevin.

"As we take my brother across the street to his final resting place, my hope is that we all feel that peace," Joe said.


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