By Timothy E. Sendelbach
Published Monday, August 1, 2011
| From the August 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Editor’s note: This article is part of a longer piece on the FDNY Fathers & Sons of 9/11. Retired FDNY Captain Bill Butler is also one of the “Band of Dads.” Bill was unable to join us for the interviews in New York City due to the medical effects he suffers as a result of working at the WTC site, so we caught up with him by phone. His son, Thomas, was killed on September 11. He was an FDNY firefighter with Squad 1 for 12 years, and was last seen entering the South Tower.
Tim Sendelbach: Tell me about the “Band of Dads” that formed after 9/11. How did that start, and how do you support each other now?
Bill Butler: We were all members of the New York City Fire Department, except one fellow, Jack Lynch. But we all bonded and gave each other support. We meet, we have lunches, we’ve gone a few places socially together. The loss we suffered, it’s [not like] a regular bond that we’d have if the kids knew each other from college or from jobs. Because they were lost at a young age, we’re bonded together [in a different way].
Sendelbach: When we joined as firefighters, we were supposed to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for someone else in an effort to save their life. In your case, your sacrifice was losing your son. Do you think this sacrifice is too much to ask?
Butler: When you lose a child, it’s always a tough thing. But … it’s part of the service, it’s a very dangerous job. And you have to be aware that these things do take place. When members go into it, they have to be aware, and—not that we dwell on it—members of the family and friends must be aware of it [too].
Sendelbach: As a firefighter and a father, how do you choose to remember Thomas?
Butler: I remember him as a patriot. He was a great flag waver. He had joined the Navy Reserve about eight years before he was killed, he was a member of the New York City Fire Department, and he was a member of the bay constable in his town, because he loved being around the water. He said, “I want to protect my country, my city and my town.” But he was a happy-go-lucky fellow, like most of them were. He enjoyed life, he enjoyed his family and his three children, and he enjoyed his job.
Sendelbach: How will you personally commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11?
Butler: We’ll do the same thing we’ve done every year. The whole family will go down to Ground Zero and to the cemetery. Even though we never recovered any of Tom’s body, we have a memorial in the cemetery and in town. We get together with all the kids, we remember Tom and we say prayers. And we’ll do that every year on 9/11.
Sendelbach: What long-term effects are you experiencing from your efforts on the pile?
Butler: I have a very serious lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis. It affects my breathing, and I’m on oxygen. But I’m glad I went to help with the recovery. That’s what we were trained to do, that’s what we had experience at, and we did recover many, many human beings, [both] emergency service people and civilians.
Sendelbach: As far as the medical care and the benefits you’ve been provided, how have they been handled?
Butler: The New York City Fire Department and the city have done an excellent job in looking after those of us with injuries from 9/11. We didn’t know right away how severe they could be, but they turned out to be very severe. Dr. Prezant, who’s heading up [FDNY’s World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program] has been terrific, and the nurses and doctors have been super. [The FDNY] is like a family, and I’m not surprised that they’ve been doing [such a great job].
Sendelbach: As you know, we’ve been talking to some of the firefighters who lost their fathers on 9/11 as well. What words of advice do you have for them?
Butler: Remember the good times with your dad. My son, his favorite time was Christmas, and that seemed to be our favorite holiday. Never forget the heroism that formed on 9/11. You have to remember that the fire department [was] running into the building when everybody else was trying to come out. Take care of your family, support your family, and support other families of those who have lost their dads. But [most of all], remember the good times that you had, because there were many, many good times, and I feel that someday we will catch up with each other again.
At publication, we were hard at work on a video based on these interviews, planned for release in late August. Visit FirefighterNation.com and search for “9/11 Fathers & Sons” or “like” us on Facebook to be notified when the video is available.
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