NEW YORK — Ten years removed from the worst day of his life, New York City firefighter Mike Kotula is about ready to say “enough.”
Sunday, at a ceremony at the only firehouse where he has worked during his 29 years in the department, Mr. Kotula will read the names of the 12 men from his house who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He swears he will do it sober this time, something he admits he didn’t do eight of the previous nine times he has read the names.
He will mingle and visit with families of the victims, some of them as close as his own family. The 10th anniversary of the attacks, he knows, is a milestone, a bigger deal than the rest of the anniversaries so far. It’s also just a day like every other since. It’s a day to carry on and try to move forward and function, all the while knowing things can never really be normal again.
“I don’t think it ever gets better,” Mr. Kotula said. “I may not come back at all. I may leave town after this year. Yeah, I’ve had enough.”
Mr. Kotula works at a firehouse on the corner of 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan, just a block behind the Lincoln Center. It houses the No. 40 engine and No. 35 ladder, which means it is known as the 40-35 house. It sent 13 men - 12 from the house and one who was subbing from nearby engine 23 -on those two vehicles to what is now known as ground zero.
Only one survived. That survivor, Kevin Shea, was badly injured and is now retired.
The 40-35 house is not alone in the devastation it has suffered. The department of 11,500 uniformed members lost 339 firefighters, two paramedics, a chaplain and a deputy commissioner that day. It has lost 17 in the line of duty since.
But the 40-35 house was thrust into the spotlight when author David Halberstam, who lived in the neighborhood it serves, published a book about it in 2002. “Firehouse,” a short but powerful book, turned victims into more than names. It turned them into people, into colleagues, into loved ones, into friends.
It did the same for some of those left behind, like Mr. Kotula. Though he wasn’t featured in the book, 40-35 colleague Robert Ostrofsky feels the same way as Mr. Kotula. He hasn’t been at the house half as long as Mr. Kotula. He, too, thinks 10 years is enough.
“After 10 years, it’s taken its toll,” Mr. Ostrofsky said. “I think I’m getting to the point - I love the 35 truck, I love it there - I think it is time for me to take a break. After the 10-year anniversary, I’m seriously thinking of moving on, moving to a firehouse closer to my house [on Long Island] to get away from all the hustle and bustle, even though I like it here.
“It’s time to start thinking about myself. I can’t be here and remove myself from this. I’ve tried. So I think I have to physically remove myself from the whole thing.”
Trying to be normal
From outside appearances, it is business as usual for men like Mr. Kotula and Mr. Ostrofsky and their colleagues. They try to maintain a sense of normalcy and do their jobs. As Mr. Ostrofsky noted, “We’re still trying to get our feet on the ground. Along the way, we’ve been doing a very good job. For what we were faced with, we did a really good job. To this day, all fires go out. We save a lot of people.”
They try to be normal away from the job, too. Mr. Ostrofsky helps his sons with Boy Scout activities. He trains for marathons. Mr. Kotula talks about his son, also named Michael, who followed him into the department. He talks about his grandchildren, who are a big part of his life and who may keep him from eventually moving to Texas and joining a friend in the home inspection business.
But the memories never really fade, never really dim. How can they when there are daily reminders?View Entire Story
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Washington Times sports editor Mike Harris has more than 30 years experience in the business as a reporter, columnist and manager. He’s covered a wide variety of events including two Olympics, horse racing, auto racing, professional and college sports. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow the section on Twitter @WashTimesSports.
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