As the morning sun peeked through the cloudy sky, dozens of Upper East Side first responders gathered in front of the NYPD’s 19th Precinct station house and FDNY Engine 39/Ladder 16 firehouse Monday in remembrance of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the courageous police officers and firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice that day.
Monday marks the 22nd year since the world-shattering terror attack known simply by the date 9/11, which upended the American way of life and forever changed New York City.
While the trauma of the attacks and their aftermath shook the country to its core, the unity and resolve shown by first responders and neighbors alike inspired a new generation to aspire to public service.
The Upper East Side suffered some of the heaviest losses in the city, with only three zip codes accounting for 87 of the 2,753 men and women killed.
Neighborhood firehouses were not spared this heartbreak, as 11 of the 343 FDNY members who perished came from just two UES houses.
The Yorkville 9, as they’re known, were nine firefighters from Engine 22/Ladder 13/Battalion 10 on East 85th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues.
Firefighters Thomas Casoria, Michael Elferis, Martin McWilliams, Thomas Hetzel, Dennis McHugh, Thomas Sabella, Gregory Stajk, Captain Walter Hynes and Fire Marshall Vincent Kane perished that dark day.
A plaque outside their Yorkville firehouse honors them, bearing the quote, “There was a time when the world asked ordinary men to do extraordinary things.”
In the face of harrowing evil, these men were indeed extraordinary and continue to be remembered as such.
Two of New York’s Bravest from Engine 39/Ladder 16 at 157 East 67th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues were also taken too soon.
Lieutenant Raymond E. Murphy and Firefighter Robert Curatolo drove down to Ground Zero after a shift change along with retired Firefighter Richard Rattazzi, who spoke to Upper East Site Monday about the two friends he lost.
After working a full shift, he and Curatolo were getting ready to leave the station that fateful morning. Murphy, who had been late getting to work, was determined to drive downtown alone, but Rattazzi and Curatolo came with him.
Though three men went and only one returned, Rattazzi has kept in touch with the families of his fallen brothers and attends the station’s memorial event every year.
“You never forget. So many people lost their lives,” the retired firefighter said. “The people that were lost should never be forgotten.”
Retired Battalion Chief James McGlynn, who also served at the World Trade Center on 9/11, told Upper East Site, “The Fire Department lost an incredible amount of talent, of knowledge that died with these guys.”
While the loss for the department was tremendous, he said, “We’ve rebuilt, and we’re still here.”
As rows of men and women in navy blue lined up in front of the police and fire stations, their backs straight, shoes shined, and faces solemn, Deputy Inspector William Gallagher of the 19th Precinct spoke of the importance of solidarity in the face of tragedy, reminding those in attendance to “take pride in knowing history will remember the New York Police Department demonstrated the highest principles of service and humanity” in their actions that day, and in the weeks and months after.
Following a moment of silence commemorating the loss of life, Gallagher read the names of the 23 NYPD officers killed in the attack.
After the dignified remembrance, the NYPD’s commanding officer for the Upper East Side explained to us that as time passes, “there are less and less people in the police department who were actually a part of the mission.”
Gallagher himself, at the time a 23-year-old rookie officer, served at Ground Zero on September 11th, and remembers the devastation. “It’s ingrained in my memory forever.”
He acknowledged that there are now many officers on the force who were very young when the attacks occurred and who do not remember them. With the minimum hiring age for the NYPD being 21, it is possible that there are now police officers who were born after 9/11, though Gallagher did not know the exact numbers.
Ultimately, Gallagher said, continuing these annual memorial events shows the neighborhood that “we remember our fallen and that we honor their sacrifice.”
Today, and every day, the Upper East Side remembers.