Former fire chief's message of hope and compassion

REACHING OUT: Having lost 50 of his men at Ground Zero, Dan Daly felt he had to do something to ensure such events could never…

REACHING OUT:Having lost 50 of his men at Ground Zero, Dan Daly felt he had to do something to ensure such events could never happen again, writes PETER KEARNEY

FORMER NEW York fire chief Dan Daly remembers only too well the scenes of devastation and hopelessness he witnessed – he also remembers the faint glimmer of hope that inspired him so much.

September 11th, 2001, was “a beautiful crystal-clear day”, what some pilots would call “severe clear”, he says. Off duty that day, he was tempted to take his private plane up for a run around. But that run around was put on hold when he got a phone call from a friend asking him if he had seen what had happened, to which he replied “No”.

His friend told him to turn on the TV and when Daly asked “which channel?” his friend replied “it doesn’t matter which channel”.

Within minutes, the 24-year fire department veteran was at the scene and he couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of him. He lost over 50 of his men at Ground Zero that day. One of those was Steve Belson, a very close friend who had convinced him to leave school teaching and join the fire department all those years ago. He went into the North Tower and never came out.

Daly also remembers how he felt those days and for some days afterwards. Like so many Americans it was a feeling of anger. The ex-fire chief, again like so many Americans, gave serious consideration to joining the armed forces to exact revenge. However, unlike some other Americans, those feelings subsided.

Daly began to realise a completely different message to most. He believes that 9/11 will remain one of the greatest atrocities of his generation, in the western world at least, and it was because the atrocity was so great that a new message must be spread.

The hope he saw was through the volunteers who turned up to Ground Zero to set up tents and bring some comfort to the rescue workers through therapies such as massage and chiropractic treatment. He describes the two worlds that unfolded in front of him. On one side there was Dante’s inferno as the two towers crashed and burned; and on the other side there was a City of Angels made up of volunteers.

In the early days there was no uptake on the services of the volunteers, as firemen and other rescue workers were “too manly” for such therapies. Yet as the days went by, one or two tried it out, then three or four and pretty soon there were queues of rescue workers waiting to use them on a daily basis. The volunteers helped feelings of anger subside and changed his life forever.

Up until that point he viewed retirement as taking it easy and living it up in the Caribbean. A dream retirement for most Americans, but now to Daly “a very shallow thing to do”.

He feels compelled to have a positive influence on the world and to do something to ensure that events such as these may never happen again. He has given talks in New Zealand, Australia and in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. What he teaches that each of us needs to “drop our ego and reach out to people”.

“9/11 was a wake-up call for everybody but it seems that everybody has gone back to sleep,” he says.

People are still filled with fear and confusion, which has led to tension and they don’t know what to do. He feels that the vibrancy is back in New York but wonders “what kind of lesson will we have to experience before we get serious about living with each other in peace?”

Daly spends his retirement spreading his message of hope, compassion and personal responsibility “to ensure that we get the real message from 9/11”. He is focusing his message on young people and this Sunday, September 11th, he will be speaking at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght, Co Dublin.

For him, his visit to Ireland is a sort of homecoming. He was born in London to Irish parents but moved to New York when he was just three. His father is from Cahersiveen in Co Kerry, his mother from Mitchelstown in Co Cork. An uncle is a retired Aer Lingus pilot and lives in Dublin.

In all of his life as both a school teacher and firefighter, for Dan Daly nothing compares to bringing a five-year-old girl with Aids to the Bronx Zoo with the Children’s Wish Foundation.

“Every human being is on the same quest – the quest for happiness; yet they get distracted on the way, which is what leads to so many problems in the world.”

Dan Daly will be speaking in the National Basketball Arena on Sunday at 6pm at a concert marking the anniversary of 9/11 organised by the Tallaght Youth Band and including the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band, the Garda Band and soprano Regina Nathan; tickets €10 at the door