Sunday, April 18, 2010

Timothy B. Higgins Side by Side Farewells to two who trained together and entered the towers together Sept. 11

Timothy B. Higgins
Side by Side
Farewells to two who trained together and entered the towers together Sept. 11
October 5, 2001 NEWSDAY

Paper fell in a strange blizzard from a darkening sky Sept. 11 as Terry Hatton led the men from Rescue Co. 1 into the World Trade Center's north tower.

"Brother, I'm afraid this day we may die," he told a friend as they entered.

An hour later, the order came to evacuate the teetering building, but Timothy Higgins and the men from Squad 252 kept heading up the stairs. They said they were on their way to help Hatton.

"We'll meet you," Higgins shouted over his shoulder through the din to another firefighter they passed.

They buried the two men yesterday, eulogizing Hatton at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan and Higgins at the Church of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Lake Ronkonkoma, with uncannily similar words. Their bodies, found a day apart last weekend only yards from each other in the remains of the last burning building they entered, were carried to their graves on the backs of fire engines.

The two decorated fire captains had learned their dangerous business together as young men in the same elite Brooklyn rescue company.

"We were all guys with 100-percent attitude, all aggressive," said Richard Evers, a retired member of Rescue Co. 2 who in the early 1980s helped school them in the array of saws, ropes, scuba gear and other specialized equipment.

They had been handpicked for one of the city's busiest companies, and their captain, Ray Downey, a department legend who also was lost Sept. 11, taught them to press into the flames beyond where others dared to go.

"He'd say, 'You always go farther. You always go farther,'" Evers' wife, Denise, a fire dispatcher, recalled.

Higgins, 43, and Hatton, 41, were different sides of the same coin.

Higgins, who grew up in Freeport and raised his son and two daughters in Farmingville, was always asking for more drills and pestering his elders with questions. He had a knack, Evers remembered, for choosing the right tool for any rescue. Hatton, a Rockville Centre native who lived in Manhattan, was cooler, perhaps, but just as much a perfectionist. He would take rescue tools apart after drills just to see how they worked.

Yesterday, Mayor Rudolph Giu- liani described Hatton, who was married to a mayoral assistant, as City Hall's "resident hero," who seemed to win a medal every week.

"He reminded me of Joe DiMaggio: quiet, self-determined, confident," the mayor said as firefighters from all over the East Coast crowded the aisles and stretched up Fifth Avenue. "He could have been a movie star, but if he had been a movie star, he would've been playing roles like Terry Hatton."

Hatton's wife, Beth Petrone-Hatton, found out she was pregnant with their first child on Sept. 12.

In Lake Ronkonkoma, Higgins' son, Christopher, recalled a man "everyone loved to say they knew." Higgins, who has three firefighter brothers, was renowned for his love of a capella singing, a good party, and most of all the job. He'd crawl between legs to beat other firefighters waiting to get at a blaze, and then he'd turn around grinning. When his voice was heard in the smoke, firefighters said, they always knew things would turn out OK.

"His last hour was his finest," Christopher Higgins said. "He gave himself in an attempt to save others."

Just what happened in those final minutes on Sept. 11 will likely never be known. Handheld radio transmissions within the buildings were heard by few who made it out alive, and those memories are clouded by the confusion of events.

A tool belonging to Higgins' Squad 252 was quickly found in the north stairwell area, said his brother Joseph, of Ladder Co. 111 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Then a firefighter took him aside to quietly say he'd passed his brother on the 28th floor, headed up to help Hatton.

Joseph, Robert and Matthew Higgins began a 13-day marathon of digging near the stairwell, going home only to sleep for a few hours each day. They found another tool from Squad 252. Late Saturday night, they found Hatton. Late Sunday night, while they were resting, Higgins was found.

"We'd like to die of a heart attack in our sleep at home like everyone else," Timothy Higgins said five years ago in an interview after another line-of-duty funeral.

But for firefighters like Higgins, whose company motto was "In Squad We Trust," some things overcome that desire. "The instinct of a firefighter is to make sure everyone gets out alive - you don't think twice about it," Joseph Higgins said. "The gamble is there. You have to depend on each other."

--Elizabeth Moore and Kathryn Wellin (Newsday)

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