Among the ranks of New York City's legendary 9/11-era firefighters, Liam Flaherty is by many accounts an exceptional hero. As the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks approaches, Flaherty is once again representing the very best on New York's 'Bravest,' honoring the memory of fellow servicemen and women lost during 9/11 in an exhausting cross-country race across 20 states in 31 days.
Like scores of other firefighters and rescue workers, Captain Flaherty of FDNY Rescue 2 in Brooklyn virtually lived at Ground Zero through the dark, devastating months that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Flaherty organized his fellow firefighters in surveillance units and patrolled the area day after day, night after night looking for "anybody and anything" to bring closure to the families of those lost, former FDNY Department Chief Dan Nigro told ABCNews.com. "He was always there – every single day. Christmas Eve – he was there. New Year's Eve – he was there. Every single day for 9 months – he was there, and in my book he's an outstanding guy."
As part of the Tour of Duty, Flaherty is running thousands of miles to honor those whose lives were lost in service during the events of 9/11. Organized by the Australian Fire Brigade, the Tour kicked off last month in Los Angeles and will be ending at the World Trade Center at dawn on September 11th. It is the hope of each of the 36 Australian and American firefighters, police, and EMT's participating to remember the sacrifice of those who bravely responded to the call of duty.
Flaherty has demonstrated his remarkable dedication to other disasters around the nation and the world in the aftermath of 9/11, serving in a variety of relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and organizing the rescue of an 8 year old boy who had been trapped for 11 days in the rubble in Port-au-Prince. The moment was captured in an iconic photo that came to symbolize the small, miraculous victories in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in decades. Flaherty's team also rescued the boy's 10 year old sister.
Of the tiny, outstretched hand which reached for help from the wreckage, Morrison said "those kids would have died and there's no telling what might have happened, but [the rescue] was incredible."
James Sandas, who used to work with Flaherty at Rescue 2, was also there as part of the Haitian relief efforts and said that Flaherty's leadership was extraordinary to behold, as he "listened to everyone, implemented their ideas, solved problems and took on every responsibility." At night, Sandas said, Flaherty would have the whole camp laughing and "doing what he could for morale."
"He represents all that's great about the FDNY,' said fellow fighter Ed Morrison. "He's spent countless hours over the years representing us to the city and to the people out there in all of his activities. He's self motivated and his loyalty extends to every aspect of his life," said Morrison, echoing a sentiment that many FDNY firefighters came forward to attest to.
Flaherty, a "man of singular distinction" (as the New York State Senate noted recently in a legislative resolution), is a son of Queens and a graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School who has been a part of fire brigades from the South Bronx to Brooklyn. His high school buddy, Paul Rogers of the FDNY Special Operation Command Unit, called him "a real leader who loves what he does and succeeds at getting people together – always calm and collected, as unshakeable as a rock."
As older ranks of smoke-eaters retire, Flaherty is carrying forth the values and traditions of so many generations of New York City firefighters before him.
"He's just that type, always looking to take others into consideration, especially after 9/11 when we lost so many guys – our brothers – as he's taken on the responsibilities and leadership role that was left by those lost," said Sandas.
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