Chaplain remembers firefighters who died on 9/11

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

A former chaplain to a department in Connecticut was very close to firefighters with the Fire Department of New York City who died during rescue efforts. Eleven of his friends died after the first tower came down.

Monsignor Frank McGrath stood on the pile of rubble 24 hours after the World Trade Center came crumbling down.

“Smoke was still rising from the scene and paper was still coming down, still floating down,” McGrath said. “When the tower came down, I knew they died, because I knew they’d be up there.”

McGrath vividly recalls the sensations from that day, remembers details down to the place the firefighters parked, which doorway they entered to the station and which staircase they walked up. He was close with the firefighters in Rescue Company One, firefighters like Patty O’Keefe, a 44-year-old father and husband forever memorialized on a Facebook page established to honor those lost.

“When I first came to find out who died, they got a rig and put me in the rig and brought me down with lights and sirens,” McGrath said.  “They have a radio transmission of them… and it was Patty O’Keefe that yelled a mayday… you can hear Captain Hattan saying. ‘Patty. you okay?’ They found the captain and Patty O’Keefe right together.”

McGrath stood at that pile the next day, providing spiritual support as the crews who survived searched the rubble, smoke still filling the air 24 hours later. 343 firefighters died that day, including another chaplain McGrath knew.

“The guys are not given to showing much grief to tell you the truth,” McGrath said. “But you grab a guy by the arm and give him a squeeze, he understands what’s going on and is touched by it.”

In the weeks and months afterward, they buried one after the other.

“I was not in good shape during those funerals, it was very hard for me,” McGrath said. “As I look back, I was going through terrible grief myself.”

Each year, he returns to the Rescue One station to relive a moment he and so many other Americans will never forget. Bells go off throughout all the firehouses in New York.

“Things get very quiet at that point, and that stirs memories.”

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