My name is Tom Kenney. I’m a 24-year veteran and Fire Lieutenant on the Providence Fire Department. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently had my book, Working Class Hero: Memoirs of a Providence Fireman, published by Publish America (ISBN 1-4137-3107-4).
This is the first book of its kind written by a Providence Firefighter in 118 years.
“You can almost smell the smoke and feel the heat. ‘Working Class Hero: Memoirs of a Providence Fireman’ is a three-alarm read. It’s taken from the 23-year on-the-job experiences of a second-generation Providence firefighter who could shrug off tragedy with a flippant remark, time after time after time. Required reading.” (Wally Pickford -The Reporter)
“…his experiences pull the reader in and force them to think about the bravery of firefighters and of their own mortality.” (Kelly Smith - Warwick Beacon)
“Working Class Hero: Memoirs of a Providence Fireman is one man’s action-packed account of twenty-three years of life as a firefighter in busy metropolitan Providence – the third largest city in the Northeast. Experience what it’s like to be taken on one emergency call after another – fires, shootings, stabbings, and more. Encounter situations that are completely unimaginable to the average citizen. Thoughtfully written with the reader in mind, describing each stage of an incident, this book allows the reader to visualize riding along with the firefighters as they pull up to a scene and must take immediate action. In this book, Lieutenant Tom Kenney will take you inside the mind of a firefighter as he makes life and death decisions. Celebrate his victories and suffer his defeats. Glimpse a world few people ever experience. From practical jokes and fun around the firehouse to gut-wrenching real-life tragedies, this book covers it all!”
The book is currently available at Barnes & Noble Book Stores, Borders Books, and online through www.amazon.com and www.publishamerica.com. It is a full size paperback edition, 224 pages, and retails for $19.95.
Tom Kenney can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com & at his webpage at: www.ProvidenceFireman.com.
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06-09-2005, 08:21 PM #1
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WORKING CLASS HERO: Memoirs of a Providence Fireman"A WORKING CLASS HERO IS SOMETHING TO BE"
06-14-2005, 01:04 PM #2
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- Jun 2005
Chapter excerpt from book: 911/Ground Zero
I was working a day shift on September 11th 2001. It started out like any other day. I had arrived for work around 7:00 AM and had coffee with the off-going platoon. There’s always a fresh pot of coffee on at the firehouse. This is the normal morning ritual for any change of shift – morning or night. We spend the first few minutes discussing fire department issues – the apparatus, equipment or station. Any official departmental notifications are passed on to the on-coming group at this time also. Once this important business is out of the way, we get down to an old-fashioned jaw session.
There’s always something to catch up on. Someone’s wife is having twins – someone’s kid is on the honor roll at school – someone’s going on vacation. These are guys that we not only work with, but we live with. We share a common ‘home’. Many of us spend more time with each other than with our own families. These guys are part of our family. We spend a lot of time together off the job also – golf trips, canoe trips, parties and family picnics. We know most of each other’s families and are involved in each other’s lives on and off the job. I work on ’A’ Group, and the off-going platoon was ‘C’ Group. Our groups work opposite each other – when we work our 2-day & 2-night tour of duty, ‘C’ Group is enjoying their 4 days off duty. This means that we only see this particular group of guys once a week at the firehouse. There’s a lot of catching up to do!
In the case of the FDNY firefighters that fateful morning, I’m sure that the same thing was going on in their firehouses as well. Friends (‘brothers’) were sharing a cup of coffee, while catching up on each other’s lives. Guys from the off-going shift were still hanging around the firehouse chewing the fat. They were already off duty and free to go home when the first plane hit the north tower. They could have climbed into their cars and gone home to their families. Many of them, however, grabbed their gear and climbed onto the trucks instead. They knew that their ‘brothers’ were going to need all the help they could get. They didn’t worry about whether they were getting paid for this, they didn’t worry about where they were supposed to be going that day, and they didn’t even worry about their families (they knew that they were safe at home and away from this horrible scene). What they were worried about at that moment were the people in that tower; and their fellow firefighters responding to the alarm. That’s what a firefighter does (paid or not – on duty or off duty); help people during an emergency. If ever they were needed – it was now. These guys weren’t going to let down their ‘brothers’ or the citizens of NYC – not today.
The fact that so many off duty firemen responded on the trucks that were dispatched to the World Trade Center, is one of the main reasons that the FDNY had such a difficult time calculating an accurate list of those firefighters murdered that day. These guys weren’t on the riding list for their company, because they weren’t supposed to be there. They were supposed to be on their way home. A lot has been written about the firefighters of FDNY “just doing their jobs” that day. I’m sure that they’d agree. Let’s not make any mistake about it, however, I’m sure these guys were scared ****less responding to that scene, but they were “doing their jobs” because they wanted to be there. They wanted to be there for those innocent people trapped in the tower, and they wanted to be there for their ‘brothers’! God bless them all!
On this particular morning, after the guys from ‘C’ Group had left, we went about our daily routine. Rick and Al checked over the truck and equipment, as I went upstairs to my office to do the morning paperwork. I was in my office when one of them yelled up the pole hole, “Loo, turn on the Today Show, there’s a ****in’ fire in the World Trade Center!” Like most Americans that day, I was shocked by the image of so much black smoke coming from one of the towers. Unlike most Americans watching that day, I had a pretty good idea of how serious a fire it was by the color and the amount of smoke visible. My very first thought was – ****, they’re (FDNY firefighters) going to have a terrible time reaching this fire. We have a couple of 30-story buildings in Providence and many about 15-stories. I know, from personal experience, that any climb beyond 6 or 7 floors takes a good deal of time, and takes a tremendous toll on the stamina of a firefighter carrying the 100-plus pounds of equipment needed to fight a high-rise fire effectively. I struggle climbing anything over three stories at this point in my career. The news media reported that the fire was in the north tower, on the 90th floor! These guys were in for one hell of a long day! I wish that had been the worst of it.
I immediately called my fiancée, Nancy, at home to let her know what was going on, and tell her to put on the TV. This was a scene repeating itself all over the country. People seemed to need to share this moment with loved ones. I needed to share this with her, but I also needed to share it with my guys, so I went downstairs as I kept her on the phone. She immediately thought of the people working in the building above the fire floor – she asked me how they were going to get down. At the time, no one on TV knew how the fire started although there were reports that a plane had crashed into the tower. I, along with millions watching, assumed that it was a smaller plane, not a 767. I told her that the people above the 90th floor would find a stairway that was clear of smoke and use the stairs to evacuate. I said that I was worried about the firemen who would have to use these same stairs to climb 90 floors to get to the fire! She gasped on the other end of the phone at the thought of them having to climb the stairs that far. She was silent for a minute, as we both continued to take in the horrific scene playing out live in front of us. She finally said, “No, there’s got to be another way to get to the fire. What about the elevators?” I told her that, depending on how many of the elevators were still functioning, some of the firefighters might be able to use them. Most, however, would have to use the stairs to reach the fire – and the victims.
As we both watched the same scene from different locations, we were horrified by the sight of another plane, this time recognizable as a commercial jetliner, crashing into the second tower – the south tower. We could see first hand the size of the plane, and the size of the explosion and fireball. We both instantly knew, along with the rest of America, that we were witnessing a terrorist attack. What a terrifying and helpless feeling! This plane struck the second tower on a lower floor than the first plane had. Nancy’s thoughts, again, went immediately to the victims trapped above the fire floor – and mine went to the firefighters. They were now facing two major disasters, in the middle of a war zone! No one knew what was coming next. She saw the coverage of the firefighters rushing to the buildings and said, “Are they crazy? I wouldn’t go into those buildings!” I told her that they had no choice, “that’s their job”. I also told her, as we watched debris (and people) fall from the buildings, that the most dangerous spot for the firefighters right now is in front of the buildings. I mistakenly thought that they’d be safer inside the buildings.
When we saw pictures of the intensity of the fire raging from the second tower I told Nancy that it was only a matter of time before that tower collapsed. There was no way to get water to the fire floor, and as the flames continued, the intense heat would weaken the steel framework of the building. With the enormous weight above the fire floor there was no way that this building wasn’t going to fail. I believed, however, that the upper floors would tip and fall, leaving the part of the building below the fire intact. The building’s own design, unfortunately, prevented this from happening. Once the weight from the upper part of the building fell on the fire floor, it collapsed straight down like a giant house of cards. These floors could not support this additional weight.
When the tower collapsed, Nancy cried on the other end of the phone line. I quietly said to her, “We’ve just lost a couple of hundred men”. I was now openly crying in the middle of the firehouse sitting room. I couldn’t believe my senses. This was beyond my comprehension. We both watched as the video showed, over and over, the collapse of the tower, and the people, including firemen, running as fast as their legs would carry them to escape the debris. She was completely at a loss when she also saw the firefighters running back to the scene when the dust had begun to settle. I told her that a couple of hundred of their ‘brothers’ were trapped in that debris and that they wouldn’t rest until they could rescue every last one of them. At the time, no one really understood the totality of the devastation. How could we? This type of collapse was unprecedented.
We immediately contacted our Union office to inquire about volunteering for rescue operations at “Ground Zero”. We felt so helpless (and useless) here in Providence. We’re only about 150 miles away from NYC – we could have been there in 3 hours! They told us we had to wait until our 4-day tour of duty was over. By that time, the FDNY was requesting that all firefighters wishing to volunteer with the rescue operations, remain in a stand-by mode until they called for extra help. They never made that call, they preferred to rescue (and recover) their own. They later put out a request for firefighters from outside their department to come to NYC to attend some of the many funeral and memorial services which were being conducted on a daily basis – sometimes 3 or 4 a day! There weren’t enough FDNY members to adequately represent the department at each and every service.
For the next few weeks, every moment I wasn’t on duty was spent in front of the TV, watching the cable news networks. Hoping, at first, for news of rescues. Hoping next for successful recovery of remains. All the while listening, as the estimates of the total number of casualties rose, hour after hour. Thankfully, after a few days, the numbers began to fall. Unfortunately, as the total numbers of estimated victims fell, the number of firefighters confirmed dead continued to rise. It rose to 343 men!! I found it nearly impossible to come to terms with that number.
Just about a month after the attacks, I went to NYC for the first time to attend a couple of funerals being held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was overtaken with emotion as I stood in the middle of Fifth Ave., at attention, as the FDNY Fife and Drum Corps marched by. It was even tougher when the family’s limousine drove slowly past. Seeing the wife and kids of this fallen firefighter sitting in the back of this limo really brought the human side of this tragedy home. They sat there with shocked, blank expressions on their faces. They seemed to be afraid of looking into the faces of the firefighters lined up to honor their husband and father. I understood. I don’t know if I could have kept from breaking down if they had looked at me directly! I think this was probably the toughest emotional moment of my life. As I stood on Fifth Ave., saluting the passing cars, it brought all of the terrible moments of the previous month to my mind – of this national tragedy. It made me realize that, for the enormity of this cowardly act of terrorism, the real victims of this tragedy were real people, with real families who loved them – and missed them terribly. These families’ lives had been forever changed in a single instant. It’s always more difficult to deal with the human side of tragedies. I guess that up until this moment, I had been able to keep the thought of the personal human suffering at bay.
When the family and friends of this hero had made their way into the cathedral, they were followed by the firefighters who had been lining the street. I followed into St. Patrick’s and sat somewhere in the middle of the church. As the mass turned to the memorial, it began with words from Mayor Guiliani and other FDNY members. These were moving eulogies, but when the victim’s best friend began to speak, it put a truly personal feel to the memorial. Talking about how this man ‘lived’, and how he loved, brought smiles and even some chuckles – but also brought the entire church to tears. It was a tough service to sit through – emotionally. When it ended, we filed back onto the street. We stood silently at attention as the family exited the church.
The following morning I went to another memorial at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was much the same as the previous day. The bagpipes and the muffled drums seemed to reach deep into my chest and wring my heart like a sponge, until the tears were flowing again! This time, however, I couldn’t put myself through another service. After the family made its way into the church, and the firefighters started filing in, I left. I went, with a group of other firefighters, to a pub a couple of blocks away. We stayed until it was time to line up again at the end of the service. We toasted the hero of the day – we toasted all of the fallen heroes of the FDNY. Then we solemnly made our way back to Fifth Ave., and stood in tribute for the end of the service.
After the memorial the first day, I took the subway to Ground Zero with a group of other Providence firefighters. After the emotional experience of the service, I thought I was completely drained. I felt numb as I sat in the subway car in full dress uniform. That is, until we arrived at Ground Zero. Seeing first hand many of these sights we’d all seen on TV for the past month, snapped me back. When visiting this area in person, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the area that was devastated. It’s much larger in real life than you could ever imagine by watching television! The next thing that hits your eyes is the incredible devastation to the whole area. There were 50-story buildings with substantial damage all around the perimeter of the area. Some had heavy mesh curtains draped over the entire front of the building to keep debris from falling and injuring the workers on the site. One large building had a piece of one of the towers sticking right out of one of its upper floors! The pile of debris on the spot where the towers once stood was still very high, and it was still smoking! This was about a month after the attack! When we were told that this pile continued below ground for another 7 stories, it was just impossible to imagine.
The thing that struck me the most, however, was the feeling that this entire area was somehow sacred ground. I felt it for myself as soon as we were allowed to enter the area that was closed to the public. I also sensed it from everyone who was working there – the FDNY members, the NYPD members, and the steel workers. For all of the work that was going on, the site was very quiet. I can honestly say that not one person I saw there that day – workers or visitors – acted in any way inappropriately. As a NYPD Lieutenant showed us around the area, it strangely seemed like we were being given a tour of the Vatican.
We visited the “Tenhouse”; the firehouse that was directly across from the World Trade Center. It was closed off and had sustained considerable damage, but there were cards, banners and memorials from all over the world adorning the building. There was also a memorial journal, for visitors to sign and jot a note or prayer, in front of the station. As we stood there quietly, understanding that this was the final resting place of so many innocent people and so many heroes, we were struck by the importance that we, as a country, never forget the horror of that historic day. When we left Ground Zero, we were all strangely quiet as we piled into a cab and headed for another firehouse and the FDNY store – somewhere near Chinatown. This firehouse had lost 7 of its members at the WTC – their names still on the riding lists on the wall of the firehouse. The guys on duty this day were very friendly and thanked us for coming to NYC for the services. It was a strange feeling to be in this firehouse and see these guys eating lunch and carrying on with a somewhat normal firehouse routine after what they’d been through just a short month ago. The outside of the firehouse was adorned with pictures, cards, and flowers in a makeshift memorial. It seemed surreal.
The FDNY and NYPD members I met on this trip – at Ground Zero, on the streets, and in the pubs – couldn’t have been more gracious or appreciative of our support. Even the ordinary people on the streets would smile and thank us. Some would even stop us and tell us how much they appreciated and respected firefighters. This was very strange to me. I’ve been to NYC many times before, and people on the streets of NYC just don’t do that! Because we were in uniform, we rode the subway for free. Amtrak also let firefighters in uniform ride the trains free of charge to and from NYC, to attend any of the numerous memorial services for our fallen FDNY brothers. The terrorists may have toppled two of our tallest buildings. They may have destroyed countless human lives. And, they may have wounded a great city, and great nation, very deeply. It seems, however, that they’ve also rejuvenated this city and nation. Isolation and indifference have been transformed into togetherness and patriotic pride. I sincerely hope that this part of the 911 legacy lives on.
Before my group of firefighters returned to Providence, we stopped at a bar that, we were told, was owned by a NYC firefighter – Turtle Bay. It turned out to be a great place. We never found out if it was actually owned by an FDNY member, but there were plenty of FDNY firefighters, as well as many firefighters from other parts of the U.S. and Canada. It was the perfect place to conduct an impromptu Irish wake! Swapping stories with other firefighters, and celebrating the heroism of the fallen, seemed to put everyone in a better frame of mind. People would pass the bar, see all the firefighters, and come in to personally that a few of us for doing our jobs.
When they finally held the memorial for all 343 firemen who gave their lives at the WTC disaster, it was October of 2002. It was held at Madison Square Garden, and over 56,000 firefighters from all over the world marched the streets of NYC. I felt compelled to attend this memorial. I also felt compelled to share this moment with Nancy. From the time we met, she seemed to have an understanding and respect for my profession. She’s also witnessed first hand (and understood) what this “brotherhood” means to me. I felt I needed to show her how universal this feeling was among firefighters. She was hesitant about making the trip at first. She was afraid that the memorial would be too emotional for her to handle. She finally agreed, however, and we booked a room for the weekend. It turned out to be the best weekend we ever spent in NYC! The memorial service itself was limited to the capacity of Madison Square Garden. Preference, rightfully, was given to families and FDNY members, so we didn’t get to attend the service. I did get a chance to honor the fallen by marching, along with a number of other Providence firefighters, in the largest gathering of firefighters ever assembled in a single place. This march felt more like a celebration than a day of mourning. This was in stark contrast to the memorials I’d attended the previous year. I also had a chance to revisit Ground Zero, now open to the public, with Nancy. It was now a huge whole in the ground with all traces of debris having been removed. There were even signs of fresh construction at the site.
We saw firefighters from all over the world that weekend – Canada, Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Paris, Luxemburg, Australia, New Zealand, and from all over the U.S. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I took Nancy to Turtle Bay and it was filled with firefighters – mostly FDNY. Again, these guys were great to me and to Nancy. We talked for hours with one particular NYC firefighter and a bunch of his buddies. They were great guys and seemed to be having a great time, but you could tell by looking into their eyes that they were still numb. These guys had lost 5 firefighters from their house, and only 3 of them had been recovered thus far. It’s hard to put it behind you when it’s an ongoing ordeal.
Finally, on September 8th 2003, the funeral for Michael Ragusa was held. This was the 343rd, and final, funeral or memorial for the FDNY firefighters who were killed on September 11th 2001. Again I felt compelled to be there. I think I needed closure on this terrible tragedy, as I know the entire fire department from NYC did. It was held in Brooklyn, in Michael’s old parish, and was attended by about 2,000 (mostly FDNY) firefighters. Just 3 days prior to the 2nd anniversary of the attack, and they were finally having the final service.
As I drove into Brooklyn that morning and saw Manhattan’s skyline out of the passenger’s window, I thought to myself that it was another clear, bright September morning that had begun this horrible nightmare. How fitting it was to be having the final service today. Life goes on, and those of us who lost someone that day, or as in my case, felt like they lost someone, have to continue with the process of living. The time for grieving must end. In a case such as this, I believe that closure comes in a sense of peace with ourselves. Knowing that we did all we could to help, and knowing that we honored the memories of the victims and the heroes of that day. I think this was part of the reason it was so important for me to be there.
There is one danger, however, in coming to peace with September 11th. The danger is in forgetting. We must never forget! We must never let ourselves, or our children, forget about, or minimize, the horror, or the evilness, of that day. I’m afraid that people trying to keep from offending the viewers, will censor some of the more graphic images. I believe that when children are being told about this tragedy, they should be as offended as possible. War is offensive. Murder is offensive. Let’s not dehumanize this horrible act. The real tragedy of that day was the loss of so many innocent human beings – not the loss of two buildings. What sense of understanding would we have of the Holocaust if what we saw and heard had been cleaned up as to not offend us? Seeing the horrible pictures of skeleton-like prisoners, and the piles of bodies being buried in mass graves by bulldozers, gives us at least a partial understanding of the atrocities those people went through. I believe the telling of the story of what happened on September 11th 2001 should be handled in the same way. We need to insure that this will never happen again. We need to insure that the memories of the innocent victims of this horrible act of terrorism are not relegated to a footnote in our history books. They were living, breathing human beings whose only crime was living in a free society.
The emergency workers that day – PAPD, NYPD & FDNY – were true American heroes! It was the greatest display of peacetime heroism in our country’s history! I salute them all!!!!"A WORKING CLASS HERO IS SOMETHING TO BE"
07-22-2005, 09:10 AM #3
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- Jun 2005
The previous post was a chapter from my book, Working Class Hero: Memoirs of a Providence Fireman.
You can visit my website, www.ProvidenceFireman.com for more information.
Tom Kenney"A WORKING CLASS HERO IS SOMETHING TO BE"
09-15-2005, 11:21 PM #4
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- Jun 2005
Katrina - Adopt a Firehouse
Half the proceeds from sales of my book for the rest of the year are being donated to "Adopt a Firehouse".
It's the least I can do. I only wish I could have made the trip down there to help!"A WORKING CLASS HERO IS SOMETHING TO BE"
10-20-2005, 06:22 PM #5
Cool, its good to meet and author in the fire service.
I will pick up a copy of you book.
I am an aspireing author myself. I am working on a book (more at the conceptual stage right now) dealing with the future of the fire service.
Where all of the cultural are going to take us.
Not sure if it will sell or even be read by a single person, but I would like to get these ideas out of my head. They bounce around in there and make a lot of noise!
Good luck with the book!
Last edited by SamsonFCDES; 10-20-2005 at 06:27 PM.-Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
-Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.
-Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.
-Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.
11-01-2005, 01:42 AM #6
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- Oct 2005
- Oceanside, CA/Phoenix area, AZ
Good luck with the Book. I'm ordering a copy of Amazon.
11-16-2005, 01:45 PM #7
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- Jun 2005
Thanks, Shawn!!"A WORKING CLASS HERO IS SOMETHING TO BE"
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