Sunday, April 6, 2014


Lance Brannigan (L) with me (C) and a colleague from British
Columbia came to assist post 911 in front of Engine 5 in 2001. 

I recently watched a Discovery Channel documentary about the attacks on the World Trade Center. There is nothing new for me to learn about the facts of that event. I watched the video because my old friend Jay Jonas was included.

I worked with Jay for many years. Jay was a Lieutenant in Ladder Company 11 when I was in Engine Company 5 in the East Village of Manhattan. We responded to many fires together. Jay was a top officer, highly competent, as was his company. We held each other with mutual respect. We knew we could rely on each other's respective companies to  be doing what they were supposed to do. We would ignore life threatening circumstances, events that, if not controlled, would surely kill us. We knew if Ladder 11 was handling it, we could trust our lives to their competence. It was a mutual affair and worked both ways. I was especially confident when Jay was in charge.

Jay became a Captain and was leading his new company, Ladder 6, on September 11, 2001.  Jay and his men became media heroes when they survived the collapse of the North Tower. They survived inside the building as they were carrying an injured woman down the stairs. Had they been higher or lower in the stairway they would have perished like nearly 3000 others that day. They survived because Jay made very difficult decisions. Jay and his men were aware that the South Tower had collapsed and their survival seemed dependant on running like hell to get out of the building quickly.

Jay ignored his survival instinct and made difficult decisions based on what the right thing to do was. They remained together assisting an injured woman, Josephine.

Watching the Discovery Channel Video what struck me was not Jay's incredibly courageous ethic. I worked with Jay and already knew his character. What impressed me how his men followed his lead without hesitation.

On arriving at the Trade Center when Ladder 6 got their orders to ascend into the building, Jay had a brief discussion with men from another company, Rescue Company 1. They acknowledged the possibility of getting killed, shook hands and went about their work. When Jay told his men their assignment he also said "guys, they are trying to kill us today".

The men of Ladder 6 simply said; "we're with you Captain".

Jay was well known in the Lower Manhattan Fire Service as a good fire officer. But beyond that, what is it that inspires men to follow a leader like Jay to nearly certain death?

It is solid ethical character that makes a leader. He will do what is right to the best of his judgement. Jay's values were based on the traditional, brave and altruistic values of FDNY. His tactics came from years of study and experience. His men, like me, trusted him with their lives even if it meant their lives were in danger. And their lives were in obvious mortal danger. All the men of Rescue 1 perished. But we will submit ourselves to the risk within the leadership values because it is the right thing to do. Period!

Jay modeled the right thing.

Jay in 2009, a senior Chief (Deputy Chief) FDNY

Am I still living from these kinds of values?

I do not live in the dangerous, high adrenaline world of New York City firefighting anymore, and I am thinking about values. I am a decent person. But am I living from the kind of values that were once a part of my every day life in the Fire Department?

Can those values be applied to my every day life today?

Can I, should I, seek to do the right thing always, even in the absence of life threatening circumstances?

In my placid everyday world are those values still relevant?

I guess they are if I say so.