Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering a Fallen Firefighter From September 11, 2001

I did not know Brain Cannizzaro in life but I had the privilege of eulogizing him in death. Like so many firefighters on September 11, 2001, Brian died while trying to save others. With so many deaths occurring on that terrible day among firefighters and police officers, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani could not attend all of the funerals in person. As such, he had members of his cabinet attend several of the funerals on his behalf. Brian’s was the funeral I attended and spoke at in Staten Island.

Brian was just one month younger than me. He was born in December 1970. He died just a few blocks from me when the twin towers came down. As I spoke at his funeral, I could only imagine the pain his family must be going through. I knew then that it is unnatural for a parent to bury a child, a fact I understand even more having become a parent myself. Brian left behind his wife Jackie and son Christopher. A memorial fund was created in Brian’s honor.

What I remember most about the eulogy was what I said about Brian’s character as a firefighter. It was something Mayor Giuliani had spoken of at many firefighter funerals before:

Firefighters defy every basic human instinct when they rush into a burning building. As they search for victims, they do not ask what race or nationality you are, what religion you practice, or what income bracket you fall under. Rather, they act simply to save lives while risking their own. Their acts of bravery represent the best in us even if they must respond and often die as a result of the worst among humanity.

Brian Cannizzaro would have turned forty this year. His death reminds us all that those that perished on September 11, 2001 are not simply statistics in the worst act of terror in history. Each was a person with a history and life cut short. Had he lived, Brian and I may have never crossed paths, but I will never forget the honor of thanking him and his family for the sacrifice he made for us all.

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