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‘You can do it,’ I told them

BY ART GATTI |

I stood at home plate

as Jeff Hardy was cooking on the mound,

but I never sat before a plate of his food,

never advised him to take that head chef job

up on the hundred and first floor.

 

Jeff Hardy.

 

Deborah Jacobs Welsh.

 

Years before she married and changed her name

to Debbie Jacobs Welsh,

I lusted after Debbie Jacobs…

Never acted. Stayed true to my vows.

But I never told her to put on United Airlines garb,

board Flight 93,

or get her throat cut fighting for our country

and her passengers.

 

But I did take that city job in ’95,

testing young guys who’d been raised

playing with long, red toy trucks,

now striving to be real firemen.

 

Firefighter William Johnston.

 

I failed those not up to it,

passed the sweaty, joyous survivors of the ordeal,

helped them out of the heavy gear they wore

in their half hour of hell.

To all I had said, “You can do it!”

 

I tested three hundred

and two-thirds failed;

but to those who went on to training

hoping to graduate from the academy

I had said, “You can do it!”

And they did.

 

Firefighter Adam Rand.

 

They were a pride I took personally,

that I harbored

as though they were me —

never guessing what their final calling would be.

 

If I’m glad of anything,

it’s that I ignored the rules as the test was ending,

and, against city regulations, I wrote about it,

took personal notes

as all-too-brief biographies

of the victorious men in the fifty-pound vests

spilled from my pen.

 

On September 12, 2001, I found these six-year-old notes:

January 26, 1995:

“William Johnston — scored 100% — William’s got my general build:

six feet, a hundred and eighty pounds.

His head of chestnut hair has been given a bowl cut

and he was wearing an earring in his left ear.”

 

February 2, 1995: my last day as Special Examiner, Firefighter Physical:

“Adam David Rand — scored 100% — Adam installs tile these days.

He is here for a rescheduled test, due to faulty equipment the first time.

He’s about five-five, a hundred and fifty pounds.

One of the strongest and best so far…”

 

On Nine-Eleven, William Johnston was with Engine 6

from Lower Manhattan, which lost four men, including him,

and Adam Rand came to die with Squad 288 from Queens.

“You can do it,” I told them.

2 Comments

  1. Jack Brown Jack Brown September 11, 2020

    Thank you Gatti.

    • Kathleen Treat Kathleen Treat September 11, 2020

      Sweet and good. Crying inside. Thank you all.

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