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Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Jan. 19, 2002 – There was no mistaking Kevin Murphy coming down the gangplank of the V.I. Fast Ferry Saturday afternoon. He was the one who registered surprise and then a huge smile when he saw the bright yellow-green V.I. Fire Services truck and the crew awaiting him.
Murphy and his wife, Kimberly, arrived from St. Croix, where they have been the guests of Chuck Ulrich, the organizer of fun-and-relaxation excursions to St. Croix for New York firefighters who worked in the Sept 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The idea came to Ulrich, who owns Blue Water Travel, a St. Croix villa-brokering firm, as he watched the events of Sept. 11 and the days that followed on television and wondered what he could do to help. He, Carl Gotts of Gotts Insurance and Carl's wife, Marti Gotts of Vacation St. Croix put together the vacation packages with the assistance of a host of other St. Croix businesses and individuals.
The Murphys added a new twist, though. They wanted to take a look at St. Thomas and St. John, too. Ulrich and friends were in need of land transportation for their visit to the two islands. When Sen. Carlton Dowe, a career firefighter and youngest person ever to serve as fire chief of the St. Thomas-St. John district, heard about that, he made arrangements. The couple didn't get to ride in the fire truck, but they did get firefighter Eustace Grant as their personal chauffeur.
"We really didn't expect anything like this," said Murphy as he and his wife got their bearings after a somewhat rocky crossing from St. Croix. They were quickly surrounded by the firemen who traditionally greet each other as brothers. "Hey, it's good you're here, welcome," said Edwin Danet, joined by fellow firefighters Grant, Jose Sotomayor and Gerald Phipps; Cpl. Leonard Fabian and Fire Chief Merwin Potter.
"We're here for you, whatever you want to do," they said almost in unison. The options were many, but Murphys decided to sit down for a drink first, and then take the island tour offered by Grant.
"This place is so beautiful, just like I remembered it," Kimberly Murphy said. "We were here for our honeymoon," she explained. "But we were on a cruise ship, and we only had an hour on St. Thomas before we sailed to St. John."
This time, the plan called for the couple to spend Saturday night on St. Thomas at the Crystal Palace Guest House, compliments of host Ronnie Lockhart, then go to St. John on Sunday for two days at Estate Lindholm, as guests of Brion and Lauren Morrisette. They'll return to St. Croix on Tuesday.
This is the first break Murphy has had since the WTC attack, where he was injured. "We got the call before the second plane hit," he related, "and when I looked at what was happening, I thought I might not come out. It was just so tremendous. I don't think like that, but I did that day."
On duty the day the towers fell
Murphy is with Engine Company No. 47 in Morningside Heights near Harlem. It normally would take 20 minutes to reach lower Manhattan from there, but that day, "we made it in about 10 or 12," he said. "There were six of us, and all six lived."
When they arrived, "There was so much confusion, we got to the wrong tower — or we'd all be dead, " he said. "We went through the Marriott Hotel and were headed for the South Tower, but we got to the North Tower by mistake, and that saved our lives. We were in the lobby of the North Tower when the South Tower fell. We were getting ready to take an elevator to the 22nd floor and then walk up the rest of the way. Everyone thought they had more time."
He continued, "I never thought the towers would fall … I got hit on the head by a piece of debris — they looked so slow coming down, like they were floating, coming from a thousand feet up. It was real silent, and they'd hit, plop!"
Kimberly Murphy interrupted, "And don't forget about your hand, too,"
"Oh, yeah," Murphy remembered," I burned my hand on some steel when we were crawling out."
He said his head officer got him and the others out, and then a bizarre sequence of events ensued. He was put in an ambulance and put in a neck brace and given oxygen, but the ambulance couldn't move because of the chaos and congestion.
When the North Tower fell Murphy, with the neck brace and an oxygen bottle, and another firefighter got out of the ambulance and ran along the street until they got to a triage area, which they also then had to evacuate. Finally another ambulance with about 10 people in it already took them to St. Vincent's Hospital.
"I needed X-rays and a CAT scan, but they didn't want to use a bed to overnight me at the hospital. So, I was let loose because they were expecting so many more," Murphy said, adding the lament of the tragedy — "and they never came." New York hospitals waited for hours, and days, anticipating many survivors when there would be few.
As Kimberly Murphy listened to her husband recount that day, her previously sunny demeanor disappeared. She and Grant were a rapt audience.
She said she had been at work in Westchester County when she heard the news. "I knew he'd gone to work; I knew he'd be there," she said. "I got Keith's brother, and we drove to the City. I kept checking my voice mail to see if he'd called."
Encountering the traffic routes into Manhattan closed, "I showed a policeman my I.D. and explained I was a firefighter's wife, and he let me through," she said. "It was really strange, the only car in the tunnel, and then when we got to the City there were no cars, just people walking around, so quiet." She finally got a phone message that her husband had been released from St. Vincent's, "and we met at a friend's apartment."
Plans to return to the engine company
"It's really hard," Murphy said. "We lost friends, college friends and friends of friends. And of the 550 firefighters that went, 343 died. It's hard." He said he has been on "light duty" since Sept. 11, assisting those providing counseling services, answering telephones and driving. "I've been experiencing it in a different way," he said. "When I go back, I go back to the engine company."
Grant, silent and somber during Murphy's recital, wanted to share his experience at Ground Zero with the couple, too. He was one of a group of V.I. firefighters who went to New York to present a donation to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Grant said his mother lives in New York now, "on 113th Street."
"That's right near us, the station," Murphy said.
Grant told the Murphys about his week in New York and all the stations the V.I. firemen got to visit, but mainly about his visit to Ground Zero. "I kept thinking about all those people buried there. I don't think I ever want to go back," he said.
"I haven't been back," Murphy said.
Despite his being Irish and a New Yorker, it wasn't preordained that he would grow up to be a fireman, Murphy said: "It didn't run in the family. "I'm the only one. I'd wanted to be a firefighter since I was a little kid."
It didn't come easy. Gone are the days when being Irish alone got you a red hat and a fire truck. "I had to wait years," Murphy said. "They only give the written test every seven years. I was too young, 17, first time around, so I went to college, completed my education, and then I worked on Wall Street for three years. I took the written test and had to wait a year and a half for the physical test." He said the last time the tests were given 10,000 applied and 4,000 were chosen.
Kimberly Murphy, his teen-age sweetheart, said, "We've known each other since we were 17. I just kept thinking he'd outgrow it. Bu
t it's fine with me now; he's happy."
Murphy has six and a half years under his belt now and is an officer first grade. "I think about all the guys that died," he said, shaking his head. "Some of them were 'probies' — that's still on probation. Six of them had less than 10 weeks on the job.
"We were lucky," he said, "very lucky."
After gazing out at the sunny, blue harbor for a moment, Murphy looked at Grant. "Well, he said, "let's go see the island."

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