The firefighters who rushed to Ground Zero on Sept. 11 of 2001 can still vividly remember the plumes of black smoke clouding that Tuesday morning’s sunny blue skies. Many have spoken about the distinct smell in the air after the World Trade Center towers fell, and the sounds of horrified screams from confounded citizens.
The FDNY lost 343 of the city’s bravest during the attacks, which left permanent physical and emotional scars on hundreds more whose lives, and whose world, changed in an instant.
For the children of those heroic first responders, though, the post-9/11 world is the only life that their adult selves have ever truly known — and the compulsion to run into the literal and metaphorical fire is inextricably ingrained in their DNA.
“9/11, it kind of just sealed the deal for it,” said Robert Foti, 31, an FDNY firefighter since 2019 whose father, also named Robert Foti, died while responding to the World Trade Center attack with Ladder 7 in Manhattan.
Firefighting runs in his family (his uncle is also a firefighter), and losing his father as he tried to save people’s lives made his career choice an easy one.
“I always wanted to help people, I always wanted to do the best I could,” said Foti.
Foti is one of 65 current FDNY personnel who lost a firefighter parent on 9/11 or of a 9/11-related illness, according to a department spokesperson. He currently works at Tower Ladder 111/Engine Company 214 (nicknamed “The Nuthouse”) on Hancock Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a station which lost five firefighters on 9/11, who are memorialized in plaques on the station’s wall under a banner reading “Champions of Courage in the Eyes of the World.”
Adjacent is a wall of firefighters lost on 9/11 who were not working at the firehouse that day, but were alumni or whose children have worked at the station at some point.
He’s not the only one at that particular firehouse either who is carrying on the legacy of a parent. Jake Wipper, a 28-year-old, 5-year vet of the Department, lost his firefighter dad Howard Venetsky in 2019 of a 9/11-related cancer. Venetsky, who also worked at Ladder 111, had retired from the Department by the time of September 11 and was, at the time, working for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, but he spent six months after the attacks working at Ground Zero searching for survivors.
The attacks had a profound impact on Venetsky, who lost many of his friends that day, and on Wipper, who saw the impact it had on his father.
“When that happened, it was actually the first time I saw my father cry,” Wipper said. “It was pretty impactful, because he never really cried or had anything that bothered him. And when that happened, he lost a lot of his best friends, it took the biggest toll on him.”
Seeing that, however, never dispelled Wipper from joining the FDNY himself, and if anything only made the choice that much clearer.
“I saw how much my father loved the Fire Department, and how much of a bond he developed with the guys that he was with,” Wipper said. “And, I always wanted to be like him and emulate somewhat, be a firefighter like him. So I loved seeing that he was so happy from it and I wanted to be just like him.”
The station will be holding a tribute event on Saturday, in addition to the numerous ceremonies across Brooklyn and the city as New Yorkers remember 9/11.