Pause for a moment, and forget the statistics, the analyses, the politics. While you read this, remember only that each person who died five years ago was an individual, important for that reason alone. To most of us, Francis Esposito is a stranger, a name on a memorial carved in stone, or floating in cyberspace. To his family and friends, he was much more than that. No tribute can ever embrace all the memories, all the love only they will ever know. But it is fitting, especially on this day, to reflect on what we do know of Francis Esposito, and the lessons we can learn from his life.
He was born August 14th 1969 in Brooklyn, but his parents soon moved to Staten Island. As a boy, he was a lovable rascal who once helped drop his little brother down a laundry chute
. Yet he was capable of much more than just pranks and jokes. He helped his father build the
on Staten Island, and in the process learned skills he would use throughout his life.
The Esposito home was the scene of many happy Fourth of July celebrations for family and friends. Francis and his brothers would begin planning the festivities months in advance, striving to do even better each year than they had the year before. Clearly, making other people happy was very important to Frank. His was a close and loving family, eager to be a part of one another's lives, always finding time to do the things they loved together.
He and his father and brothers built a vacation home in upstate New York, where Frank would often go to hunt or ride his dirt bike. They were also excellent pool players, who formed a team and won the Staten Island Eight Ball League division championship two years running. These wins were no surprise to anyone who knew Frank. He had a passion for excellence, and it showed.
After graduating from Tottenville High School on Long Island, he went to work as a drywall finisher. He was more than conscientious, insisting upon perfection in all the work he did. The fun loving lad was growing into a man who retained his sense of humour, yet
"knew a lot about everything, and never froze under pressure."
With such qualities, it was perhaps natural Francis Esposito set his sights upon becoming a New York firefighter. It took seven years, but at last, in 1999, he was offered the opportunity. It came just weeks before his wedding, but he was already so dedicated he postponed his honeymoon so he could fulfill his new duties. He soon bought the midnight-blue Harley-Davidson he'd always dreamed of owning, and kept it so immaculate his friends teased him about his affection for it. That didn't stop him from wiping fingerprints from the paint and polishing the chrome until it sparkled.
They may have teased him, but his drive for perfection was genuine enough to win the respect of co-workers and acquaintances, and the admiration and love of friends and family. Yet he never let his idealism dampen his sense of humour. He entertained everyone who knew him with jokes, tossing off one-liners as expertly and effortlessly as everything else he did. This, along with his other qualities, helped him earn the friendship of his new comrades
in the fire department.
Frank was meticulous in refurbishing and caring for his house. He was proud of it, and of his beloved wife Dawn. They planned to spend their lives together, travelling, trying new restaurants, and relaxing on their boat, the "Dawn Marie." He was always taking on new projects, extending his skills. Sometimes he grew so absorbed he didn't even remember to eat, unless there was crab on the table. Frank could never get enough crab, even though he often caught his own. He also liked watching thunderstorms, and once took members of his extended family to Manhattan to watch him perform as DJ in a club there.
Just days before his death, on Labor Day, Frank and Dawn were sailing in New York Harbor when he noticed that the boat was sinking. He calmly told his wife to "hold the wheel" while he took care of the situation. She was confident in his abilities, a confidence that was not misplaced. He fixed the boat, as he managed to fix most things in life, quietly and without fuss.
After Francis Esposito completed his training, he was assigned to Ladder Company 79, in West Brighton. In January of 2001, he was transferred to Engine Company 235 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, he was regarded by his colleagues as a great firefighter. On the morning of September 11, six firefighters
from Engine 235 raced towards Tower Two of the World Trade Center. One of the men remained behind with the apparatus to connect the hoses.
The others, including Firefighter Francis Esposito, headed straight into the blazing building, without hesitating or looking back. He was so determined to rescue others from that burning hell he willingly went forward. In spite of the obvious danger, he overcame his instincts, which surely must have urged him to turn and flee from such a terrifying scene, he subdued whatever fear he felt, and he did his job. He took part in the heroic effort that saved so many thousands. He shares the credit for keeping the horrific death toll from rising much higher.
In the process, he lost his life. He died so that others might live. He didn't sacrifice his life for his family or his friends; instead, he died saving the lives of strangers. No man can ever hope to do more than that to prove his selflessness, his bravery, and his compassion. Such a man is alwasy a great loss, most of all to those who knew him, but also to the whole world. We are poorer today because Francis Esposito is no longer among us.
In their gratitude, the City of New York renamed a small portion of Arden Avenue on Staten Island in his honour. You might feel, and with justice, that such a man deserves far more. In fact, no politician has it in their power to bestow honours equal to those Francis Esposito earned five years ago. That is not to say more should not be done, despite the inadequacy of any effort.
Yet consider, he died precisely because he was a part of the team which saved thousands of lives. Every one of those individuals who might have died, but did not, is a living memorial to Francis Esposito. His was the effort, and the sacrifice, that helped to save them. Not only that, but even when the last survivor has died, those of their children born after 9/11, who would not otherwise exist, and their children after them, represent a living memorial to him as well.
No one can say which firefighter saved which person's life on that day. But each man aided the others, and none among them could have accompished so much without the help of their fellows. So everyone who owes their existence to the rescue effort is a living memorial to each and every man involved, including Francis Esposito. For as long as mankind walks the earth, there will be those who would not have been born, if Frank and his fellows had not made the sacrifices they did. Time cannot erase such a memorial, forgetfulness cannot make it less real.
Few of us can ever hope to match Frank Esposito's greatness, but each of us who reads his story and is inspired, in whatever small way, to emulate his bravery, his compassion, and his desire to do the best he could, continues to honour his memory. He was the kind of man who would appreciate a real, living, breathing memorial, one which makes a concrete difference in the lives of others, far more than a bronze statue or a street or building bearing his name. May each person who reads this remember Francis Esposito, and strive to be a better person because of him.
Frank was always close to his family. Before you go, please take a moment and pray for his parents Michael and Dorothy, for his wife Dawn, for his brothers Dominick, Richard, Vincent and Michael, and his sister, Catherine. Pray for his many nieces, nephews, and cousins, and please take a moment to remember another who died that day, Frank's cousin Lieutenant Michael Esposito
, who was promoted posthumously to Captain. Finally, read this moving tribute
, written in memory of all the emergency workers who lost their lives, including Francis Esposito.© Copyright 2006 by the Wandering Author - All Rights Reserved
The Wandering Author hereby grants non-exclusive rights to reproduce, in whole or in part, this work in any media or form whatsoever, provided such republishing or reproduction is for the specific purpose of honouring the memory of Francis Esposito. Reproduction for any other purpose without written permission from the author is expressly forbidden.