NYC firemen don’t consider themselves celebrities |

NYC firemen don’t consider themselves celebrities

Darin Olde, Tribune Staff Writer

Editor’s note: An in-depth story about three New York City firefighters playing in the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament will appear in a supplemental edition, which will be delivered with Wednesday’s Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Guy Warren, a retired firefighter with Ladder Company 175 of the New York City Fire Department, was playing golf when a friend called his cell phone to tell him about the World Trade Center.

While he was getting the news, the second airliner crashed into the North Tower.

At about the same time, all 94 firefighters from the rescue units in special operations who had been sent into the burning buildings would forever be trapped inside, leaving Kevin O’Brien, a 21-year veteran among those who were held back, to deal with the wreckage, and the families who would face life with one fewer.

In another part of town, Tom McCann, a 19-year veteran with Battalion 33 in Brooklyn, Ladder Co. 156, was being held at the sidelines. The first thing he did was pull his 12-year-old son from school. The nation was on the brink of war; he didn’t want his son coming home from school with no one there.

O’Brien, McCann and Warren are the three New York City firefighters invited to participate in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship this week at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

To call them “celebrities,” as O’Brien says, is nonsense.

“You want to make a fireman cringe, call him a hero,” says O’Brien, now 10 months after losing 94 of his co-workers. “The bravest thing we do is take an oath for office. After that it’s just the job we do.”

To consider New York City firefighters celebrities would imply that America’s greatest tragedy made yesterday’s neighbors into national stars.

Warren isn’t a star. Neither is O’Brien or McCann.

To the nation, their names and faces are unknown and without the uniforms that say FDNY they would disappear in the 54-hole tournament like they will into their own lives when it’s all over.

They are not celebrities.

But 35 years from now, when PBS and HBO look back at the grizzly, wrinkled men and women who were in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, like they have for D-Day and Pearl Harbor, America will watch with the same interest, like hardly a day has passed.

Like American icons, whose names appear on currency, in dictionaries, on stamps, photographs and murals, New York’s finest are slowly earning nameplates in our textbooks and at our dinner tables, because we’ve put them there.

Now they’re in Tahoe. Whether it’s to golf, or pull a Mack out of the big blue, we would still beg to talk to them, to hear their stories, to thank them for being the crusty “click and klack” New Yorkers they are.

It’s the thanks America wants to give, whether they want to hear it or not, whether they are tired of hearing it or not.

We want to say thank you because they are not celebrities.

They’re bigger than that.

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