A Firefighter Asks Why He, Alone, Survived . . . and Why He Remembers So Little
By TINA KELLEY
Shortly after the first tower fell, Kevin Shea, an off-duty firefighter, was found on West Street, with a broken neck, severed thumb, internal injuries, and very little memory of what he had done as the buildings burned. His amnesia caused him anguish, especially because the 12 other firefighters who raced to the World Trade Center from his fire company that morning never came back. Had he gone into the building with them? Why was he alone spared? A year later, Mr. Shea is back on light duty, working full time for the department's Hazardous Materials Operations unit. "What I'm trying to do is prep the guys for the next one, which is expected," he said. He no longer needs a neck brace; one of his doctors thinks he might return to full duty in six months. The job helps him heal, as does his work with the Fallen Brothers Foundation, which he founded with his brother, Brian, another firefighter.
Begun before Sept. 11, 2001, the group raises money for the families of fallen firefighters. "I'm coping," Kevin Shea said. "The way I cope is by doing." The missing parts of that day are coming into focus. He found some comfort in hearing from another firefighter, Joe Falco, that he had been putting out car fires shortly after arriving downtown. That answers part of the question of what he did. "I'm still a little bit obsessed about it, but it doesn't overwhelm me," he said. "Every other day I basically say, `Is this what possibly could've happened?' If it doesn't come, I don't push it. I'm not creasing my forehead saying `ooh can something come out.' " "When Joe Falco told me what I was doing, I saw I was helping people out. I wasn't just sitting around, hanging out," he said. "I was responding."
Shortly after he got out of the hospital, Mr. Shea, 35, met Stacy Hope Herman, a documentary producer. She trailed him as he went to various doctors' appointments. Before the end of the week, he felt certain he would marry her, but decided to give it six months. He went back to West Street to propose to her. Recalling the various people who said they had rescued him — a man with an "S" tattooed on his chest, a photographer, an ambulance driver — "I told her, `But honey, you're the one who rescued me. There's only one person who rescued me, and that person is you.' " The wedding is scheduled for Sept. 29.