11 September, 2006

Remembering Timothy Patrick McSweeney

[Update 9/11/09: I see from my Sitemeter that someone has linked this post from facebook. If you are willing, I would love to know who are...]

The most genuine person you would ever meet...
he defined “good guy.”

His father tried to talk him into a different career, but to no avail—he wanted his work “to matter.” Besides, with a battalion chief for a father and other family members also serving, it was in his blood. He received six awards for bravery during his 14 years at Ladder Company 3 and was one of 12 firefighters Ladder 3 lost from their regular complement of 25 that awful day. On duty that horrifying morning, his last known location was so typical for him: assisting burn victims in Tower One when it collapsed. He was 37 years old.

At 6’3” tall and built like a truck, Timothy Patrick Sweeney was known as “Big Guy” and “Gentle Giant,” or “Timbo” to his friends. The moniker “Gentle Giant” fit him perfectly. Whether at the firehouse feeding his fellow firefighters and mentoring the “probies” (rookies), or at home doting on his children and advising his three younger sisters, Timothy was a loving nurturer and protector.

In what was reportedly “one hell of an Irish bash” in 1995, Timbo married his sister’s best friend Debbie after a lifetime of friendship and two years of dating. Debbie reports he was anxious to start a family, and they soon produced an armful of children—Patrick was 4 at the time of his father’s death, Margaret 3 and Dennis 1. He was an attentive father, involved in every part of their lives: playing with them, bathing, feeding, pampering and protecting them. Debbie would often return to their Staten Island home from her shift as a nurse to find him in his recliner with their children draped all over him—one laying across his shoulders, the infant in his arm, and a third snuggling in his lap, “Like one great big person," Debbie says.

That loving and protective quality was apparent at work, too. He was the “grownup” the nervous new firefighters turned to and the figure around which the company’s social activities revolved. He organized everything Ladder 3 did for recreation, from picnics to softball games to holiday parties. Known for being a superb cook, he took responsibility for the firehouse commissary, including bookkeeping and supervising the purchase of supplies.

Words like "kind, down-to-earth, easygoing, upbeat, gentle, warm" and "a rock" come up repeatedly in connection with Timothy McSweeney. It was obvious he had a profound effect on all who knew him. He was particularly close to his in-laws and so tight with his numerous lifelong friends that Debbie referred to them as his brothers.

Each person who died on that horrifying day five years ago left behind an aching void in somebody’s heart. But I can’t help but think that some must have left behind bigger and more numerous empty spaces than others…

But I also can't help but think of what a beautiful example Timothy McSweeney was and how profound his impact on those he touched. And so, through the lives of people he guided and shaped and loved, he still lives today.

Timothy Patrick McSweeney, 1964-2001

Rest in Peace
You Will Not Be Forgotten

[Sources: Fallen Brothers (here also), Ladder 3, Newsday, Staten Island Advance]