9/11 relections with Jeanne Ryan and Marjory Ackerman: Legacy and the firefighters of Squad 1

  • The Fire Department of New York’s Squad 1 Fire House. Submitted photo

  • Fire Department of New York firefighter Jack Ryan-Ackerman works at Engine Company 90, Ladder 41, the Bronx. Ryan-Ackerman is the son of Jeanne Ryan and Marjory Ackerman of Amherst. Submitted photo

Published: 9/9/2021 1:45:13 PM

The New York Post, one of several popular newspapers paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, is running a series called, “FDNY Legacy, Hero Father.” The series focuses on firefighters lost on 9/11, and their now grown children who are members of the Fire Department of New York.

So many of the names and faces are familiar to me as they were my neighbors, relatives and parents of my children’s playmates. Yet as I search the pictures and names, I realize I am looking for a picture of firefighter Jack Ryan-Ackerman, Engine Company 90, Ladder 41, the Bronx, because he has an FDNY legacy, too.

I believe it was all the hero “fathers” from Squad 1, Park Slope Brooklyn, who lost their lives that day, who inspired Jack to join their ranks, and be their legacy.

In New York City, fire houses are part of the community. The fire stations are often wedged in between other buildings, just like another store front or restaurant. In our neighborhood, we had several houses, including Engine 220/Ladder 122, Engine 239 and the elite Squad 1/ Technical Response Vehicle. Squad 1 was on Union Street, sandwiched between Dixon’s Bike Shop and the Park Slope Food Coop. Both popular venues, the guys of Squad 1 were often outside the firehouse talking to neighbors, community members and most especially the children who wanted to shake their hand and get a “ride” in the truck. The members of Squad 1 were well known to many of us who lived in Park Slope.

Jack loved the firefighters of Squad 1. They were strong, funny, wore cool uniforms and regularly hoisted him up into the truck, letting him pretend to drive. These guys (and they were all guys) seemed so permanent to us. They were always there — or at least some version of them, outside the fire house. Different guys came and different guys went, but there were always firefighters outside of Squad 1 — until there weren’t.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Squad 1 screamed out of the fire house headed for downtown Manhattan. On the truck were Capt. James Amato, Lt. Michael Esposito, Lt. Edward D’Atri, Lt. Michael Russo, and firefighters Peter Carroll, David Fontana, Thomas Butler, FF Brian Bilcher, Matthew Garvey, Gary Box and Robert Cordice. The 12th member of the elite Squad that day, firefighter Stephen Siller, was driving home to Staten Island when he heard the emergency call come over his radio. He ran through the Brooklyn Battery tunnel to find his Squad.

Like so many, the firefighters of Squad 1 never came home — to us, their community family, or to their loved ones, their other family. Many of us waited near the Squad 1 house, hoping they would round the corner, smiling and waving out the windows, backing the truck into the bay. But it was only quiet. The doors were down, it was dark inside.

On Friday night, Sept. 14, there was a candlelight vigil making its way down 7th Avenue, the main drag of Park Slope, which ended on Union Street, outside the fire house. Everyone was holding candles and hoping to get a glimpse of the building, as if the firefighters might be there if you looked hard enough.

Jack was 9 when he stood in front of the fire house, his face illuminated by the candle taper he was holding — too old to cry, or so he said, when he mentioned that the dust from the towers was still burning his eyes.

In August of 2002 we left Park Slope for safer environs and landed in Amherst, Massachusetts. A different place with different customs, Jack never quite found his niche here. At 18, he moved back to New York to begin the long, iffy, ride to becoming a New York City firefighter. He had no way of knowing if this would work out, but he kept moving forward. First he became an EMT for a volunteer fire department on Long Island. Then an EMT for the FDNY in 2016. And in October of 2018, Jack graduated from the Fire Academy and became firefighter Jack Ryan- Ackerman.

While some legacies are passed because of a shared family name, some legacies are passed because of a shared experience. Miss you, Squad 1! Thank You. God speed, Jack!

Jeanne Ryan and Marjory Ackerman, Jack’s parents, live in Amherst.
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