Saturday, January 1, 2011

Philip Thomas Hayes, Engine Co. 217 FDNY

That, or try "Phillip" too. Another dubious 2,996 effort.

See you 'round like a donut

When Philip Froelich celebrates his fifth birthday October 1, there will certainly be an extra bit of warmth, a special flicker in the birthday candles, or perhaps he'll feel an inexplicable brush of his cheek.

That will be his grandfather, Philip Thomas Hayes looking down on his namesake, smiling and whispering a silly joke in little Philip's ear.

Philip T. Hayes died as he lived on September 11, forever the New York City fireman, trying to lead others to safety.

"I had a feeling that he had no fear of anything," said his son, Philip T. Hayes, Jr. "To him, anything was possible."

Hayes spent two decades with the New York City Fire Department, Engine Co. 217 in Brooklyn, serving from 1959 to 1979. After he retired from the fire department, he worked for a customs brokerage, but firefighting remained in his heart. In 1995, a position for an onsite fire safety inspector at the World Trade Center was offered to him and he couldn't miss his chance to go back to what he loved.

"He still had badge number 6366 in his heart," said his son. "None of the guys in 217 ever wanted to be relocated because of the closeness they felt with the guys in the firehouse," he said.

Hayes was called to duty after the first plane hit the north tower. He immediately went to work, leading people out of the buildings. He rescued children from a nursery in building 5, then entered the south tower to continue his work. It was what he had always done, and always loved.

"He taught us how to be firemen," Jim Savastano of Engine Co. 217 said. "He had 18 years in and he was meticulous. Even when he was organizing a picnic, everyone got an assignment."

Hayes played protector, friend and favorite funnyman to everyone he knew. He was born in Brooklyn in 1934, the second oldest of 16 children. He attended St. Agnes Catholic School and in 1952 married his sweetheart, Virginia. They had four children.

His daughter Virginia McDermott said her father loved to read and watch the horse races. But he was more than a father to her, she said. "He was a friend. I loved him, but I liked him, too."

She added that he always made silly jokes, such as his favorite saying, "See you 'round like a donut," as he left a room, or knock-knock jokes that came out of the blue. "He always told bad jokes," she said. "But he always made people laugh."

Hayes was last seen in the south tower lobby, as he continued to direct others to safety, concerned that the falling debris would hit them. When his remains were finally recovered in April 2002, his name badge lay next to him. His brothers from Engine Co. 217 found him in the lobby and carried him out with "delicacy and dignity."

"A colleague of his told our family that the falling debris from the South Tower prompted him to enter the South Tower to redirect the people to a safer exit," said his niece Linda Salome. "Although our hero did not make it out alive, we are positive that his unselfish action has saved many others. This is what Uncle Phil was all about, thinking of others without giving any thought to his own safety. We are all very proud of him, and miss him immensely."

"Once a fireman, always a fireman," Capt. Jerry Migliore, of Engine 217, said of Hayes. "He stayed at the towers, and he's considered as much of a hero as anyone else."

His family had held a memorial service in October 2001, but were finally able to give him a proper burial after his remains were recovered in April 2002.

At the burial service, three-year-old Nicholas Froelich wore his grandfather's Engine 217 helmet. Firefighters lined the street, and the Fire Department Pipe and Drum Corps played as the coffin was carried into and out of the church.

Nicholas' baby brother Philip had been born October 1, 2001, less than a month after his grandfather died.

He weighed 9 pounds, 11 ounces. 9-11.

"We all said, that's Dad," his son said, "telling us in his own way, `I'm still here, watching over you.' "

When young Philip turns five next month, that special twinkle will be there. A magnificent embrace of his grandfather's love will surround him, and that little wisp of air in his ear will be Philip Hayes whispering to his grandson, "I'll see you 'round, like a donut."

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