Q and A: Bob Kelly, Ground Zero Firefighter, Shares Thoughts on 9/11

Says Kelly: "It’s that wound that never heals – by having it always exposed like that, it puts it to the surface again."

Bob Kelly, 53, said he remembers Sept. 11, 2001 "pretty good."

But upon talking about the day 10 years ago, when the former New York City firefighter found himself at Ground Zero, it's clear he hasn't forgotten much.

Kelly owns a summer home in Reeves Park. His younger brother, Tommy, lived in Riverhead full-time, and was one of seven members of Engine 219, Ladder 105 to lose their lives in the World Trade Center attacks.

Kelly recently sat down with Riverhead Patch about his thoughts on the upcoming 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

What has it been like recently as we approach the 10-year anniversary?

This year’s been different no doubt. There’s been a lot of activity, a lot of people reaching out, looking for information. It kind of like came on sooner this year. Usually anniversary and events we deal with usually start around the end of August and we run through. This year it’s almost been going on since May.

Who's asking beyond media?

You have media, family, friends, extended family. And they all mean well. We just had folks up from Texas and they wanted to come in to go see the World Trade Center and talk about it. They mean well. It’s just it’s a difficult thing. It’s that wound that never heals – by having it always exposed like that, it puts it to the surface again.

How clearly do you remember everything from that day?

I remember it pretty good. I was coming into work for a day tour, for the morning. I heard about it on the AM radio that there was an apparent plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. I got into the station and saw right away it was going to be a bad day. Even if it was an accident, a bad fire – you’re thinking civilian fatalities no doubt. We were in kitchen of firehouse watching it on TV. And within a few minutes we all pretty much came to the conclusion that it wasn’t an accident. You could see by amount of fire – you could see from the volume of fire that it was a pretty major incident.

So we got ready for the tour and shortly after that I said, ‘Let me give my brother a call and see how he’s doing.’ Because I knew he was working that night and into that day. And working in Park Slope, where he worked, I was pretty sure they would be responding and getting over there pretty soon. So I called the fire house – and he had already left. I kind of wanted to tell him be careful and just take it easy out there. So I never really got to talk to him about it.

Do you remember the last thing you said to him before that?

We were on the beach. “I’ll see ya later,” you know? “Take it easy.” It was Labor Day weekend, we were having a good time. Tommy lived 2 doors down. On the beach, enjoying the end of the summer together, you know. Pretty much, “I’ll catch you back at work.”

What was like for you in months after 9/11?

I was detached. I spent pretty much the whole time down there working while the site was open doing recovery work. I actually became part of the counseling unit, was doing peer work with the guys down there also. We had a really good support system – the fire department did, thank God. They were able to get a grasp on the right away.

It definitely consumes a big part of your life. It was like the main focus of what we did every day for seven, eight months. It was a long time, you know. And I was literally down there 5 out of 7 days a week if you add it up.

What has it been like as someone who was down there that day and so closely affected to watch all the coverage, to watch everything 9/11-related?

You try to tune it off a lot. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword. You’re curious but it just gets overwhelming. Certain things definitely trigger some of the more difficult memories and some of the more difficult times.


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