*Editor’s note: This is a rough translation of the interview, designed to be readable with all the Uhhs, Umms, and repeated words taken out. While this transcription may not be perfect, the basic statements should reflect what the speaker was trying to get across*
(Matt Bechtel) Alright, Jerry, thank you for being on Book Brilliant! When I was looking back, I noticed that there’s a 53 year age gap between us. I’m 27 and you’re 83, it’s exciting.
(Jerry Sanford) It’s great to be here. Pleasure to be here and meet you Matt. Thank you.
I was telling you a little bit ago, and I know that you’re a humble guy, but you truly are a rock star to me. I’ve never met a firefighter from New York. I’ve never met anybody who was at ground zero during 9/11. Growing up my childhood best friend since kindergarten, all he wanted to do was be a firefighter, and we were actually in the same second grade class when 9/11 happened. They came in and, and my teacher read a thing and started crying that these twin towers had been attacked. I had no idea what that was at the moment. It wasn’t until we went home and, and everything was different since then. But that same friend, he actually, he’s a paramedic and a firefighter now in our home town, and he got me to join the volunteer fire department with him, that I served on for about five years.
Well, you guys, I say this on Tik Tok every night that the volunteer firefighters throughout the country fill a huge void for us because not every municipality, or little town has the ability or the money to have a paid department. And you guys, you, you go to work, you drop what you’re doing when the alarm comes in, you race to drownings, floods, all that stuff, and my hats off to you. I say that every night, I thank the volunteers throughout the country.
Yeah, well, they’ll definitely hear that and appreciate that. Coming from somebody who served in a city like New York, to tip their hat to the rural guys and the volunteer guys, will mean a lot to them. So Jerry, you’ve got this book that just came out, It Started with a Helmet. I’ve read it, I liked it. You, I was thinking about this last night and it was really hitting me. You watched the twin towers be built and then you were there when they were destroyed. That’s a heavy, that’s a heavy thing to think about.
Yes, it is. It was, yeah. Going to 23 truck up in Harlem in the sixties. I watched the actual steel come out of the ground and go all the way up. And then, 2001, I was changing planes and changing planes in Pittsburgh. I’m jumping ahead of the story a little bit, but that’s when I was called to a television and I saw that the first plane had hit the first tower. And then, about an hour and a half later, when we were in a car cause we got thrown off the plane in Pittsburgh, we had the radio on and we weren’t aware of that in fact, a second plane had hit one of the towers. Shanksville plane was forced down and of course the flight into the Pentagon, and now the radio announcer was saying that, “Oh my God, the tower’s collapsing” and I’m in the car and I’m screaming, “That can’t be!”, you know, I saw them built. Now he’s saying minutes later, the second tower came down.
So at that point, we, we were in West Virginia coming back here to Naples and we stopped at a rest area and we ran in and that’s when I saw in fact, Matt, the cloud that the whole world had seen. When the two towers had collapsed killing all those people, yeah, that’s a hard. Getting back to what you said, it’s very hard to understand what happened that day and how did they come down.
Yeah, I want to touch base on a lot of that later on, because you have some really powerful stories about it. But before you were a firefighter, you were a policeman and people can read the book and find out more about how you went from Wall Street to becoming a policeman, to becoming a firefighter. I had this, I was just curious, you know, you had said that you saw some things as a policemen that you didn’t like. Did you ever have any run ins with the mafia or the mob in New York?
No, that was a whole, they had a whole different, undercover squad. No, no I was just a beat cop out on the street saying, “What the hell am I doing here?” Here I was, I left Wall Street, I was from Staten island, which is 95% white. And here I get assigned to an old Jewish Puerto Rican precinct. I mean, you talk about cultural shock Matt. I went from what the hell is a bagel? What the hell is now? Iwas really a strange, a culture change, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say, you know? And, it taught me, being a police officer, I saw some very not nice things, what we do to each other and that wasn’t in my yoke.
You know what I mean? I just was not, I wasn’t going to do that, you know? No, I wasn’t made, I wasn’t made out to hit people and treat people terribly, you know? So, that was the bad taste I had my mouth about that.
No that’s definitely understandable. You don’t seem like that kind of guy. And I’ll tell you what too, I’ve heard a lot of cops say, if they can do it again they would have become firefighters. You probably made the right switch.
In my class we must have had 25 ex-cops and the teacher out at the Rock, he hated us. He hated ex cops. So if everybody ran 10 laps, we did 25 laps. You know, we had all the extra homework and we did all the crap, but yeah, it’s very rarely Matt that you had a firefighter switch over to the police department. Very rare.
Yeah. And you were my age too when you did that. I can’t imagine stopping what I’m doing and trying to become a firefighter now, learning from zero. So really hats off to you for doing that. And you’re in Harlem and that was when the Harlem burnings were going on right? I mean, there was a lot going on when you started.
Yeah. I started, I switched over in 1968 and, we call those the war years from like 68 to 70 something. And, we had blackouts and during the blackouts, there was looting and burning and just uncomfortable things in Brooklyn and Harlem and the Bronx. In fact, I remember, I forgot what year it was, but the Yankees were playing in the World Series. And, I’ll think of the announcer on TV, he since passed away and the camera at the Yankee stadium panned out over center field, and you could actually see the South Bronx in flames. That’s was Howard Cosell, he was the announcer during the World Series and he said, “Look at this, the Bronx is burning!” And it was, I mean, it was a tough times. Well, it wasn’t only in New York Matt, but the unrest was throughout the country too.
You know, the society was changing, in fact, I mean, I tell this story when I got to Harlem to Ladder 23 and Engine 80, the doors were left open. You had to run, you got on the rig and you just rolled out and the doors were left there, your shoes and all. And that was the sanctuary, the firehouse, if you needed air in your tires or you needed a Band-Aid, or if you were afraid of something, that was a safe haven, fire houses all over the country.
But then as society changes, you heard “Oh they came in and they robbed this and they robbed that.”, and then they started throwing stuff at us. At a couple of fires I was on the aerial ladder and I had a garbage can almost hit me while I was climbing an area ladder. Off the roof of a building, here I am trying to save their sorry asses and they’re throwing bricks at us and garbage cans. I mean, that’s how it changed. You know, Matt, it was frightening. It was frightening.
You know what, I’m glad that you told that story because I was always under the impression that some of the firefighters that are getting attacked nowadays, I thought that was new. I mean, I’ve heard stories of, I think in Detroit where people were cutting the lines to the firefighters, I thought that was all new. So you’re the first person to tell me that even back then you were getting attacked, well maybe not attacked.
No, but it wasn’t a regular thing. But in fact, we used to travel in convoys believe it or not. You think about an army convoy, we would have a police car. We had two police car assigned to fire house. If we got to run, the police car would go first then a battalion chief, then an engine, then the ladder, and then a police car afterwards. And we would pass blocks on fire and the chief would just say, “Keep going”, and we would be selective in the fires we stopped. I mean, I can’t even believe I’m saying that. I mean, that’s how crazy it was. But it wasn’t regularly, I just want to make sure, that wasn’t a thing you did every day, but I mean, to watch it was like, “Wow.” You know, I don’t think society will ever go back to what we did back then.
That’s good. I assume that, you know, the cop was probably having you go to certain ones where there’s, you know, when you’re limited on resources, you have to choose, where are the people that, who are trapped? If you’ve got an abandoned building or…
If it was a vacant building block, we just kept going. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, on my volunteer department, I had a guy that, he was on Omaha fire and he was, he’s probably about your age. And he had served for a few years and really, he was just kind of advised us on stuff and he told me a pretty funny story. He said, when he started on his department, he was really young, you know, probably his early twenties, and he said that the firefighters, they took out a hundred foot ladder and they extended it all the way up. And they said, “Alright, you got to climb up. When you get to the top, you put one foot over and then you climb back down the other way.” Now, I don’t know if this is a true story, but I believed him when he told it. So he said alright, so he climbs up the ladder, gets to the top, comes back down, you know, he’s shaking, he says the second his feet hit the ground the firefighters look at him and go, “Boy, you’re the craziest son of a bitch we’d ever seen, there’s no way any of us would’ve done that.” I believe that story when he told it to me.
But yeah, man, you know, you’ve done a couple of podcasts interviews, which I’ll link below because you have a pretty funny story about, smoke and some guys inhaling smoke. Can you tell, tell my viewers that one as well?
One night, I guess one day after lunch, the boys are, you know, “Who’s the bravest, who’s the biggest, who’s the toughest badass?” So I think it was Quigley and Dumas, they were too funny, but great, great firefighters, going “I can take more heat than you. Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” So outside on the apparatus floor Matt, was a little room and it had a toilet bowl. That was it. It looked like a phone booth, a little bigger than a phone book. They get some papers and they wrap it all up. They put it in a pale, they get some rags and they let it on fire. So they both go in there and each one is standing on each side of the toilet. I mean, toilet bowl, that’s how big it was.
Well, yeah, so they call it, we close the door and somebody gets a nail and a hammer and we nailed the door closed and these two assholes are in there and the smoke is pouring and coming out from under the door, around the top and they’re pounding on the door and we we’re standing and we’re laughing our asses off. So finally somebody would pull it, we opened the door, they come tumbling out and now they want to kill us. They’re chasing us up there, we’re sliding the pole, this is when we still had the poles in the firehouse. I mean, that was a pretty funny thing that two clowns and we nailed them in the little bathroom. And that’s kind of a funny story.
That’s a very funny story. I love it. Did you, did you ever like the movie “Ladder 49”, did you ever watch that?
No, no, I never heard of that, “Ladder 49”.
It’s got Joaquin Phoenix in it. It’s about, I don’t know, almost 20 years old at this point, at least 15, I think. But it’s about New York firefighters and they do some, some funny hazing stuff.
Oh, no, sorry. I never heard that one.
I’ll send Chris a link to the trailer or something. I think it’s definitely going to make you tear up, especially, you know, I think it hits every fighter fighter’s heart, but you’re in New York too, so.
Oh, wow. Great. Thank you, Matt.
I’ll send that to you. So Jerry, you retire from New York and you move out to Florida, and for various reasons you ended up back in New York, and this is some powerful stuff we’re about to get into, but you were with a lot of the men who died the day before, the night before, actually the night before September 11th, it was September 10th. Um, I don’t think people can really fathom that kind of loss if they’re at a workplace and they look around and they see the people that they like, who they work with and then to imagine you know, not just one of those people dying, but a lot of them. I was thinking about that Jerry, in that, um, that kind of takes your breath away.
It does. After, after we bought the helmet back to the South Bronx and we did the rededication of the firehouse and Father Judge was a dear friend of mine and he was one of our Catholic chaplains. It actually turned out that was the last mass he ever said, because he was killed the next day. So we go next door to a big Dominican Republic social club, and we have food and drink and beer and all that stuff with 14 to 15 of my fellow firefighters there. Chief of the department Chief Ganci, Bill Feehan and all these men I had worked with and the next day they’re gone, 20 hours later, they’re dead. You know what I mean? It’s just, hat probably, I’m not saying I had PTSD Matt, but that was, that was a hard thing to get over.
I mean, here I’m having a sandwich with the guy, and then hours later I’m in Pittsburgh and the towers come down and these guys that I was just with the following morning, the morning before then they’re gone, you know. That was a very heavy thing Matt.
So like I said, I was in second grade when it happened, but I remember it, and there is a lot of people my age who don’t remember it. 9/11 has been something I’ve really taken to study, each September, I don’t know what it is, but it’s like, I feel a duty to just learn more about it. You know, last year I read a book, I wrote it down, and it was called Fall and Rise by Mitchell Zuckoff. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it but I loved the book. It was, it was powerful. It was hard to read, but I, you just feel a duty to read it because, people my age too, I’ll say this, if you’re, I don’t know, 30 years or younger and you weren’t in New York, you have no idea what this meant, you know, the impact of the world. Anybody younger than me doesn’t know what life was like before 9/11 or before Columbine, you know, there’s a pre-Columbine world and there was a pre-9/11 world. I remember as a child seeing picture of, Father Judge when they were carrying them out. I was about, maybe at that point I was maybe eight years old when I saw that picture and I asked my dad what was going on. And my dad said, “That guy’s not alive.” and that picture always was burned in my mind. What was Father Judge like? Could you talk about him a little bit?
Sure we had about four to six different chaplains of all different faiths. And Father Judge was a Franciscan monk and the friar, that’s what they call it, was at 31st street. It was across from Engine 1 and I think Ladder 7, I might be off with the numbers and he was a very spiritual man. I met him at the burn center. A number of times when our firefighters were seriously burned, he was there giving last rites if it was that bad. And he responded with me to a lot of calls if I’ve lived on Staten Island. And if there was a bad call that I had to go on in the press office, he called me and he said, “Jerry, are you going to that multiple?” I said, “Yes, Father, I’ll pick you up”, and I’d stop and he’d come out and we’d go to the fire together.
I got to know him real well. Mychal Judge, he was loved by everybody, and again, I’m repeating myself, but who would have known that the mass he said on the apparatus floor of Ladder 42 that day was the last mass. In fact I sent our book to the fire commissioner, Danny Nigro, who is the fire commissioner right now in New York City, and I knew him when he was a chief, now he’s the fire commissioner. He sent me back a beautiful response. In his letter to me, he said, “Jerry, it is hard to believe 20 years have passed and I remember Father Judge saying that last mass.” Those of us that were in attendance there, it was kind of hard to believe that he was taken from us, but he was a great. He was a confidant to many, many, many firefighters, including myself. That was my wonderful remembrances of him.
Yeah, it’s, it’s hard, but you know, to think about this too, Father Judge is definitely in a place now, he’s in paradise, you know, he can’t be hurt, he has nothing to worry about. And that’s what we always have to remember, especially with people like that, what he’s got at the moment is better than what we do. So did you know Orio Palmer at all?
I knew of him. He was a battalion chief, he was well thought of. I met him at, you know, when you go to a fire and it’s chaos, you know, multiple alarms, and I would see on the back, I’d say, “Oh wow, that’s chief so-and-so that” And I’d say to my staff, “That’s Chief Palmer. Wow. I heard a lot of good things about him”, but Matt, I didn’t know him personally, but his reputation was flawless. The men loved them and he was a great teacher. I just wish I would have had the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but I didn’t know him. I have, I don’t know if you can see this, I brought this back from New York.
This was published by the New York Times, September 26 to 2001, and this is pictures of the 343 brothers. And every night on Tik TOK, I try to highlight one of the men that I worked with or new, and I knew about half of these guys and worked with. Oreo Palmer is in, along with the other 343. Great guy.
Everybody should follow you on Tik TOK as well. I believe your handle is @itstartedwithahelmet, correct?
You’re doing some great stuff on there. Tik Tok has a younger audience, but like I said, that younger audience needs to know about September 11th, 2001. It reminds me of this book. I got here, I’m sure you’ve, you’ve probably got a copy of this yourself. It’s a pretty big book and it’s from the New York Times. And, it’s the portraits of grief from everybody, it’s got obituaries, stuff like that.
But, you know, when I learned about Orio Palmer, I was like, that guy is a true bad ass. I mean, he made it all the way up there. I think it was radio was going out at certain points. They do not make them like that anymore. I believe every firefighter, regardless of if you’re on a small volunteer department, like I was, or if you’re in New York City, everybody should know Orio Palmer and know his story because that’s true leadership.
Everything you just said, I’ll be honest Jerry, when I was on a volunteer department, a lot of the older guys, they didn’t treat us very nicely. I wouldn’t go out of the way to say, you know, necessarily mean, but they say the best thing for a younger firefighter is to think like an older one. But there’s also a lot of pride with some of the guys that I was with, where I don’t think they wanted the younger guys to know cause we might outdo them, you know? And I know that that’s not a necessarily a unique problem with fire departments. And so I wanted to see if you had any advice for the old timers, but I would say this, a guy like Oreo, he wasn’t like that. You know, he was just training guys up and he led by example and he went in first through the door. That’s the kind of leader not that you should be, you have to be .
That’s right. That’s right. He led the example. He was a great, he was one of them. When I was in Harlem and I was under wonderful chief officers, battalion chiefs, lieutenants, captains. And getting back, I was 30 years old when I got to Harlem, I mean, I was an old guy, you know, and they were starting it. They thought they were going to break my chops because I was, I was a probie. I was the first probie in eight years at Ladder 23. So they were like, “Oh, we got fresh meat coming here.” But I said to them, “Excuse me, I’m an ex- cop. You can all go…” you know, what they can do. So men like Orio and, Pete Ganci the chief of the department, all these men, we all worked in the war years. Even the probie, you took the probie under your arm under your wing.
I mean, I was taught, forget what I learned in Probie School that goes out the window, like anything else, you went with the senior men and they taught you, boy they taught you the job. And I’m so happy that I wound up in the Ladder 23 coming out of Probie School. It took me two and a half hours each way to get there. I lived on Staten Island and Harlem is like in my book is like Cleveland, you know, it’s like, oh my God. A funny story is in the book, but when we got our assignments, I said, “Oh, gee, Ladder 23 must be on 23rd street. And they were all laughing like “Hey, stupid ass. You know where 23 is?” I said, “Yeah, it’s on 23rd street.” they said, “Yeah your ass, it’s 139th street in Harlem.” I was like, “Harlem? Oh my God.”
Anyway, I am so blessed that I work with guys that taught me the job. And I learned, I passed it on, you know, so when I got some years on, I pass my knowledge on to the younger guys, you know, and there was never any difference between the senior man, although he had the respect, I mean, the senior man, he had the respect when he walked in, boy you knew he had the guts. He was it. Yeah.
You’ve got a great story in the book as well about meeting a higher up as a firefighter versus what that was like as a police officer. I wanted to ask this, I was thinking about it and I thought about this for the first time reading your book so I wrote it down to ask you. The logistical side of me was wondering on that day of September 11th, 2001 it seems like all units were at ground zero what did they do for, I mean, people were still having heart attacks. People are still, you know, living life and having emergencies. What do they do for the other calls that day and that week? Do you by chance know?
Yeah, they brought in other, they relocate, which we call relocate. In other words, this company is busy, they’re at 9/11 so they brought in all other companies from the fringes, from the outskirts of Queens, the Upper Bronx, Staten Island, to fill in where the missing companies were. Also, they used, I think they used New Jersey companies. I believe a lot of New Jersey companies came over through the tunnel or through over the George Washington Bridge. And I believe I could, I could be wrong, but I think they put some of them in those firehouses, they relocated them so that they had to fill a void, just like you said, they had to fill the void.
And I know you haven’t read it yet, Fall and Rise: the Story of 9/11, it seemed to me like a really great book. As far as the facts of everything, you haven’t read it yet so you can’t mark your stamp of approval. But this is what I would say for people like myself, who either weren’t there in New York or don’t have such a great memory of it. It does a really good job of, it explains the structure of 9/11. It explains why it collapsed. It explained some of the grandfathered laws. I think they even talk about back in the day, I think a small plane hit the empire state building.
Yes, during World War 2.
Yeah, they talk about all of that. People who aren’t from New York who don’t know the history, they don’t understand some of these things, why it collapsed the way it did, they don’t get it. But I think this book really explains it well because, there’s reasons for everything. The other thing I thought of while reading your book was, and I hadn’t really given it serious thought until reading it was, did the government really say that the air was safe at ground zero? How, how could they have possibly known that the air was safe?
Well, I’ll even say her name. Christie Todd Whitman. She was President Bush’s EPA chairman commissioner, whatever you want to call her. She said “Yeah. Oh yeah the air down there has been tested and it’s, uh, it’s fine for the first responders.” And I went there every day with news crews. Okay, we would go there, I let them go in, they do their B roll or they’d get their shots, very few interviews with the workers there. And I didn’t wear a mask. I wasn’t even told, “Hey, Jerry, you better take a mask.” Well, in 2007 I get diagnosed with lung cancer and it took a few years for the doctors to say, “Oh yeah, you know, oh, that’s right. Hey Sanford you were at 9/11.” Yeah, no kidding. I had stopped smoking 40 years before then, a long time before then. A lot of us in fact, we’re still losing people Matt, as a result of what we ingested that day. Don’t forget you had two tall buildings collapse with furniture, computers, humans, people, and that smell in that cloud was, I don’t mean to get loud, sometimes I just get so pissed off at that maybe some lives would have been saved. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer, I’m not saying that. If I had been told, “Hey, put this mask on before you go in there” Like I said, people are still, every week, it’s terrible, I get a notification that we’ve lost a first responder from 9/11, 20 years later. 20 years later we’re still dying from that crap that we all, anyway.
We don’t need to get into too much detail about, your battle with lung cancer. I’ve seen it fought in my family, and it wasn’t even from somebody who smoked. And lung cancer does need to, I think it is considered, and it does need to be considered an active duty death. In my town we actually had a firefighter a few years ago who had passed from that. And that’s an active duty death. And, you know, your story earlier of the smoke thing, it’s a funny story, but at the same time, it’s sad that that was the idea that the smoke eaters, they were thinking of the long-term effects of it. And, you know, when I resigned from my fire department, Jerry, I had actually just gotten elected on my town’s city council, and I was involved in a lot of stuff, volunteer wise. And, I was needing to cut back on a few things and my wife was pregnant at the time, and I was starting to learn about that, the cancer with firefighting and everything, and I didn’t want to get booted off the department for not making calls, you know?
So I left, but I came with this fire fighting background, and then I was in the political realm, which you are as well. I’ll tell you what, behind the scenes I had pushed a lot for extra manpower, you know, for certain things, and you talk to firefighters and, and the problem with fire departments is, you know, one firefighter may say that they want this Jaws of Life, and then another guy will tell you he wants this kind. And so it was starting to become tough to where I was like, you know, you have to talk to the chief because sometimes there’s a little bit, I don’t want to say in fighting, but guys will have different opinions on equipment and things like that. And then, you know, behind the scenes, when you’re one individual pushing for more manpower, it’s an expense on cities. It’s not just the salary. It’s not just the salary, there’s insurance, there’s the training. There’s so much.
Medical, your medical benefits, all that adds up. It’s all money.
Yes. Yeah. It’s a tough thing and my city right now is currently, it’s sad because they’re trying to figure it out. It was an issue that needed to be dealt with probably starting 20 years ago. Right. And now the whole town wants a fix like that. It’s not going to be easy and we’re not the only ones going through this. This is everywhere. And here’s the other thing too, with us, knowing about cancer now, there’s new equipment that fire departments need to upgrade with, and that may be hard for some people to understand, but there’s new equipment that can help protect the guys as well.
You don’t have to get political with this answer. You don’t have to put yourself out there in any way. And if you just want to give me a yes or no, that’s fine. Was Giuliani and I’m not talking about Giuliani of the past few years. I’m talking Giuliani September 11th, 2001. What did you think of his leadership?
Well, when he became mayor he replaced David Dinkins. Okay, and the city was, uh, well how I can say, disrepair. It was a squeegee guy you know, you pull up to a red light, you had the homeless wiping off your windshield, all that crap. And mayor Giuliani came in, and let me tell you, I’ll put it, you better get on the Rudy train or he’s gonna run over you, okay. And what I’m saying is, he was an energetic, but big ego, huge, huge ego. And I worked with him well, a number of years directly, I went to city hall as much as I went to the bathroom. I mean we called it the Hall, we went to the Hall all the time and I went with the, with the fire commissioner a lot. And Rudy was, he was his own man.
I mean, you got on the train. If you didn’t play, I’ll tell you. I knew there would be a difference. I got, I had a phone installed in the house. The kids called it the Bat phone and when the phone rang, I knew that a fireman was near death. When that phone rang, I said, “Oh shit”, I pick up the phone and this was the first firefighter that that was killed in the line of duty when mayor Giuliani, first one, I guess, to the press office. And I had a light duty fireman working for me up there. His name was Al Washington, great fire fighter, he was from Rescue 2. And the, phone rings and he picks up the phone and I’m sitting next to him and I’m at the computer and I’m starting to write the press release, announcing the death of the firefighter.
And it always started with “It is with regret, the announcement made by fire commission of so-and-so” of the death. That’s the standard thing. Al Washington said “Jerry. It’s the mayor.” I said, “What?” He goes, “Yeah, Giuliani, he’s on the phone.” So I pick up the phone, I said, Jerry Sanford.” And he said, “Yes, this is mayor Giuliani. Are you writing a press release now?” I said, “Yes.”
Now I had been up there long enough and smart enough, this wasn’t my first rodeo. So I said “It was with regret that an announcement is made by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of the passing.” So Rudy already, he was putting forth who he was. He didn’t come after the fire commissioner. He came before the fire commissioner if he could, if you follow what I’m saying, Matt. It was the Rudy show. He was very demanding, but his popularity had started to fall off, but I knew the real Rudy. I’m not going to go into any stories like that. I’ll pass, someday over a cup of Joe we’ll talk, you know 9/11 kind of saved the, now he’s thought of as America’s mayor, but I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t want to comment any further than he was a tough guy to work for. I’ll leave it at that.
I understand, that’s totally fine. If Rudy wasn’t still involved in the political realm, I still would have asked you that question simply because he was the mayor of New York City during 9/11. You look at certain people throughout history, who are in leadership roles like that and, and 9/11 its like, how does anybody respond to that? So I don’t know as much about him, I’ve read some of his book, but yeah, I don’t know as much about it.
I’ll tell you he stepped up at 9/11, I’ll give him that much. I always give credit where credit is due. I give him that much. I’ll just leave it at that.
That’s fine. That’s fine. Once again, the importance of being in a leadership role, no matter your flaws, your strengths, your weaknesses, you gotta step up when it’s time to step up. So after his, I really want everybody who listens to this to bless Jerry by going out and buying the book. It’s a short read, if you get it on Kindle, it’s just a few dollars. I want everybody who listens to this to read the book, and to tell somebody else about it as well. It’s an interesting story, 9/11 is coming up, and it’s going to be the 20 year anniversary. The book that I mentioned, Fall and Rise, that’s a thick book, if you’re not somebody who reads that much, pick up It Started with a Helmet and read through it. Now, do you have any other books besides yours after they finish your book? Do you have any other books, about maybe firefighting, first responding, 9/11, anything that you would recommend people check out?
Yeah actually, through Tik Tok, we, uh, this a bit of a story. We’ve started a patch, a jackpot behind me, you can see the different patches and you know how patches are Matt being in the job, everybody has a patch and they send it in. Well, I get a patch from a volunteer firefighter from Prince Edward Island, up in Canada, in Newfoundland.
And I’m, I’m teasing them we call them “New-fees”. And Chris said to me, “Wait a minute, isn’t that…did you ever hear the book about Gander, Gander, Newfoundland?” Now, maybe a lot of your readers don’t know what happened on 9/11. There’s a book out it’s called The Day the World Came to Town and over 600 airplanes, don’t forget, 9/11 happened now and in the air are thousands of aircraft people don’t realize they closed all of the airports in the United States and all the flights that were in the air were told to land. Now you had 600 transatlantic flights coming over to the United States and they told them you’ll have to land in Canada. 38 flights landed in Gander, Newfoundland, and they took care of 6,000 passengers.
I’ve heard of that book, I haven’t read it.
Oh it’s The Day the World Came to Town now, an ironic story about this. Yesterday, Matt, I’m reading the book and on Aer Lingus flight is a couple. Mr. & Mrs. O’Rourke, they’re coming back from a family gathering in Dublin, Ireland. They’re on Aer Lingus and they find out that in fact, the Trade Center was attacked and they have a son working in Rescue 2. And I’m on the couch. I’m like, “Oh my God, Kevin O’Rourke” so I’m thinking “Gee, I wonder if Kevin O’Rourke made it out or was he working that day?”
Well, Chris will show you. He was working that day. In fact, he got killed and his parents were on that Aer Lingus flight and it’s in this book and I got goosebumps. I couldn’t believe Matt that I’m here. I’m reading about this plane with his parents on it. And I come into the office here and I look, I said, “Oh, Chris, look at this.” He was killed from Rescue 2, which is an elite rescue company. I just started it. I would highly recommend The Day the World Came to Town. You can get it on Amazon.
And then another story, is from a young girl. She’s the daughter of Gary Geidel and the name of the book is 9/11 Through the Eyes of a Daughter. And he was just weeks away from retirement and he was in Rescue 1. And I just want to read, on the back what it says, “Guidel was a fireman who perished in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. He was just weeks away from retiring from Rescue Company 1. A small town boy from Tottenville Staten Island becomes an American hero.” It’s filled with beautiful pictures all about him and his wife and Tillie. I highlight this book on Tik Tok every night. It’s a great read and it has wonderful pictures about Gary. I knew Gary because we did a lot of documentaries with the rescue companies and I would ride with the photojournalist from the document group, and we did a lot on all of the rescue companies, but I would highly recommend this.
And another old book is Report from Engine Co 82. I don’t know if you ever heard of that. That was written a long time ago by Dennis Smith. That’s a classic that’s been around. We were in the job together. He’s still alive. He’s in his eighties. I never met Dennis over all the years we both spent in New York City, but Report from Engine Co 82 is another good one.
Yes, my childhood friend I was talking about earlier. He’s read that book. He read that book just a few years ago. Man, with that story of the guy’s daughter with that book, man, it’s hard for, you know. I’ve got two, I’ve got two children now, two little boys and they’re very little and I had read the book Fall and Rise a few months after my son was born and it hits you deeper when you have kids, because you just start thinking about, not just the firefighters, the people in the building, they’re just going to work that day. The firefighters of course, danger is always assumed with the job, but this was an act of war. It was an act of terror. It wasn’t like anything, you know, there had been terror attacks on the towers before, but this was something new entirely and truly innocent people. Same thing with, the building collapsing. Everybody thought that that structure was going to hold it. My understanding is that there was some grandfathered in laws with the elevator shafts and the way that they had kind of, they had grandfathered in some coding. So how it should have been built and how it was actually built were two different things. And that kinda led to the collapsed. But nobody thought that it was going to do that. You know, that was a surprise to everybody, but those stories are hard to hear. Especially the people with children or the people close to retirement.
I’ve seen you reference a book and I forget the name of it. But some guys let you, I think they, they let you borrow it. Do you have that by you or the name of it?
Yes I do, it’s called First Due. These two volunteers, Lee and TJ, they’re volunteers in Aurora, Illinois. And about three weeks ago, Chris went to Chicago with her 92 year old neighbor who she’s been helping, who just lost her husband. So we went on Tik Tok, and Chris said, “I’m going to be in Chicago. If anybody wants to come, we’ll speak and I’ll give you a book.” Well, they came, Chris gave them a book, a copy of our book and they lent me this book. And its wonderful photos from 1959 to 1979 and you talk about the war years. He was a fire buff, he actually worked for the sanitation company, sanitation department and he would go to fires and I’ll just put up, I’m just turning the pages Matt, there’s just pages and pages of fires. And this was back when I spoke earlier where the rigs weren’t covered, everything was open, this was back where everything was good, but these were taken in the 11th division.
So I highly recommend this, I think you can still get this book it’s called First Due, and it was back in the day, I think it was, let me see. It was $10.95 for this beautiful book. In fact, I have to return it to, I went through it and I just marked some of the pictures, the men in the pictures, well lieutenants in the picture. I met them when they were Chief Officers, 20 years later. It’s just, you never know. I’m like, “Oh, wait a minute. I know Frank. I knew him as a chief”, in fact Richie Hamilton, there’s a picture here of a factory fire. He was the most decorated person in the fire department. And I worked a little bit with him when he was at Rescue 1, Richie Hamilton. So yeah, I highly recommend, I’m glad you mentioned this Matt, it’s called First Due. It’s like, it’s all pictures. It’s all pictures and a little story.
It is on Amazon. Um, I don’t, I don’t remember the price. Um, now it might be on eBay. It might be on eBay as well. I was going to ask you to, uh, to, to talk of any, uh, you know, to, to kind of give a moment for all the charities and the things you’re involved with. But first I was going to show you something kind of funny. I was thinking about this from my. My first year of service. Now I is actually three years into the department at this point, but they had a program where we could join his high school kids and they didn’t count those years as being an actual fireman. So my first year in, I got this bobblehead and, uh, they misspelled my name, uh, I think on accident. If that doesn’t go to show what it’s like being a new firefighter, you get a bobblehead in your knee. Your name is spelled, right? Jerry tell us about some charities that you recommend, um, if people want to help out.
Um, yeah, I have them, I have them listed in the back of the book, but I, uh, every Saturday, um, We, uh, about, uh, 8 or 10 of us we started a charity, an organization where we welcome in world war two, Korea and Vietnam veterans it’s crumb it’s called home, was held up. He had a, he had a military museum here in Naples and he passed away and these veterans would go to his museum for coffee and donuts and BS every day. And he passed away, his wife couldn’t continue to run it. So we picked up the chase and we meet every Saturday and it’s called, uh, let me find it here,https://gulfcoastvf.org/ And I ha that would be, we have a, we got a small, uh, a small grant, uh, last year. In fact, we just got back together again because of the COVID we had closed for about an app for about a year and a half Matt, because we could. Yeah, we couldn’t bring in these old time has to sit on top of each other because that’s how they are, you know, they just come and they, they talk about the days they spent in Vietnam and Korea and world war two, we’re really losing them because there’s not too many more that are around, you know? So, uh, so that’s, that’s one of the, uh, I really have about, wow. I didn’t realize I have seven. I belonged to seven different organizations.
That’s all right, read them all and I’ll link them all too.
Freedom, memorial foundation of Naples, uh, back in 2002, I got a call. From one of the commissioners at KV county. And he said to me, something like this, Hey, you, the New York guy. I said, yeah, what are you talking about? How is this? You said, this is Fred Coyle. I’m one of the commissioners. I says, okay, commissioner, what do you need? He said, well, we want to build a freedom Memorial here to remember everybody that was killed last year. This was a couple of years after the night. So, uh, I joined the committee and it took us all these years and we finally, dedicated and that you can see this or not, but that’s the freedom Memorial. Yep. It’s in the back of the book. And, uh, I raised, I don’t know how I did this. I raised a million $900,000, Matt. I can’t, I can’t even, uh, tell you how I did that. I was just a firefighter. What did I know about raising? Uh, we went to, car washes. We went to car shows. We went to swamp buggy races. We held all kinds of golf tournaments and.
That that is, uh, my pride and joy is, and every time I go there, like over the years, we had a hard time when the economy took a tank and people out on, on, uh, golden gate Parkway where it’s situated, it was surrounded by a chain link bank fence. It was this ugly looking gray thing. And, uh, I get a call. When are you going to rip that eye sore down and that’s a disgrace. And I hung in there. Matt, believe me. I put down there and like, I’d hold my hands on the, on the screen, on the fence. And I’d say, brothers, I’m not going to give up on you. And I did, uh, hung in there. Uh, and with a lot of help, a lot of help.
We raised, uh, in one night in the parking lot, I raised a million $300,000 a million from the people that came there that pledged. And I got, in fact, the county said to me, if you will, how much you think you’re going to raise it. You you’re having a dinner in a parking lot. I said, yeah, we’re having it in the parking lot, which we’re, uh, we’re charging 250 and $500 a seat. They said, well, who’s coming. I said, I don’t know. They said, okay boy, you got some nerve. You got some, I tell you what. If you raised 600,000, over 600,000, we’ll match it. This was the county. Can you imagine the county, your county saying we’ll match you Matt. You want to build a new firehouse? I mean that’s yeah, no.
Well, I raised 630, $1,000 from the people in the parking lot. We had a big. Steak dinner, the whole nine yards wine. It was really a five-star event. I mean, you’re paying $250 or $500. You better give them, you better give them a good product, you know? Yeah. And, uh, anyway, I raised a million $300,000 and we finished the project and it was dedicated in 2016, which was the 15th anniversary of 9/11. And now the 20th year, and we’re almost finished. We just have, uh, we have 21 remaining round, uh, disks with the state’s name on them. And they cost each cost $1,600. So about 20 short. So once we get the money for that and that you can look at the www dot freedom, Memorial foundation of naples.org and that’s, uh, that’s another one of my big charities and wounded warriors of KV county. We have these returning young men and women that are overseas have been fighting, uh, in Afghanistan and Iran and come home with PTSD. And again, I have that in the back of my book, www wounded warriors of Collier, C O L L I E R county.com. And, uh, this afternoon I’m going up to a Bonita Springs, I work in a food pantry.
I’ve worked, I volunteer in a food pantry and that’s www dot Benita, assistant.org. And then finally, I don’t know if you’ve heard about reached across America. Uh, every, every Christmas, this idea, this program, Matt started in Maine, a company that makes Christmas reads and there have been around now 10 years and I’ve been involved with them since they started. They place wreaths on every grave of the veterans in cemeteries all over the country, including Arlington national cemetery. And our Memorial here has been, even though it’s not a cemetery it’s been designated as a honorable spot. So they send me down about 12, uh, wreaths. And I have a ceremony in December and I get somebody, a veteran from each branch of the service and we display it in front of the Memorial. And that’s a www wreaths across america.org. So Matt, that’s great that you asked me for the, for these, uh, these charities. Uh it’s wonderful. Thank you so much.
No problem. We’ll uh, and that’s the other thing people need to know about you,Jerry, you were in the Navy.
I was in the Navy. I was in the Navy before in 1956. So 1962. Yep. And I’m an old Swaby and, uh, yeah, I, I loved those years and, uh, I didn’t get to see much of the world, but, uh, it was good duty to duty.
My grandpa was in the Navy and he, while he was on a ship, once he got it, he got it. I don’t know if it was on the ship, but he, while he was in the Navy, he got a tattoo on his forearm and it was of a, of a donkey. And he said it was to always remind himself not to be an ass. My grandma said it never worked. So, so grandma. Yeah. Well, like I said earlier, man, um, uh, first of all, for everybody listening, please, please bless this man. Give a little bit to the, to the charities, give what you can, um, get it started with the helmet.
You know, you can read it on your phone. You can, you can get it on Kindle. Uh, you can read it for just a few dollars, um, you know, pay, pay, pay, uh, give your respects. Uh, you know, as we come up to the 20th anniversary of nine 9/11 his was a, this changed the world. And, um, you know, let’s remember, uh, the firefighters, you know, they were, they were they had nothing to do with anything going on politically. They were just the guys that showed up wanting to help. Um, so let’s give it a little bit back, uh, give to those charities, uh, check out the book. Uh, let let’s bless Jerry. Well, um, Jerry will sign off for the listeners, but, um, I want, uh, I want to stay on the line with you for just a minute. Um, but everybody should know everything that we talked about today will be linked so they can check out the books we were, maybe we mentioned the charities and everything. So, uh, thank everybody. Thank you everyone for listening.
Thank you folks. Thank you. God bless you all. Stay safe and be nice to each other.
Be nice to each other.