Lieutenant Kevin W. Donnelly, Ladder Company 3, Sept. 11, 2001.
Born to Irish Catholic parents some 43 years ago, Kevin W. Donnelly became a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, Ladder Company 3. He along with 342 other firefighters died in the collapse of the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. A Memorial Service was held for Lieutenant Donnelly on Oct. 6, 2001 at St. Francis de Chantal. His body was found Tuesday, March 12, 2002 and he was buried at the Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury on Monday, March 18, with a lone fire department piper playing Amazing Grace in the distance. Ironically, Kevin was buried the day after St. Patty's Day, his favorite holiday.
Some will say he was a hero. That he was, although if he were alive he would deny it. The last words known to be spoken by Kevin were to a firefighter in Ladder Company 5, on the 15th floor of the World Trade Center. The firefighter said to Kevin, "Hey Lou! We've got orders to get out." Kevin's reply was "Go ahead, I'll catch up as soon as I finish helping these women." Was he a hero? You tell me. Kevin also had a chest full of ribbons for the medals he was awarded for "Acts of Heroism." He might have played it down, but he was a hero no matter what he thought or said. Sept. 11 proved that once and for all.
Ask his family about Kevin (parents Cecilia and Edward Donnelly, brothers Edward and Brian and sister Mary) and they will tell you he was a hero, but in a different sort of way. He was their son, brother or Uncle Kevin to the siblings and maybe a few other names he earned in his 43 years. Kevin was loved, and that's the way it is with the Donnellys.
Like many of us Kevin had a special word or phrase. His favorite was "later," but oddly enough he probably believed it, as time didn't appear to be that important to him except maybe when it came to "the job." He was usually late for appointments, dinner, functions, etc. which was just the opposite of the fire department where it was first in and last out.
Kevin was found just prior to St. Patty's Day, his favorite holiday. It was like he didn't want to miss out on the celebration that usually followed the parade. The funeral mass was held the day after St. Patrick's at St. Francis de Chantal.
At the church, Father Tom spoke of Kevin's mother, Cecilia, who would at times invite Kevin to dinner only to have him arrive late. Kevin would apologize and with a slight smile and twinkle in his eye say "Yes mom, but I came home." At this time Father Tom approached the coffin and said "Welcome home Kevin" as he continued to eulogize the fallen firefighter.
Ask his fellow firefighters about "KD" and they will say he was a hero although they wouldn't let him know that. He knew it but it was his job, played it down and respected the fact that his peers treated him as Kevin Donnelly. That's the way it is with firefighters. They tease, rank and put each other down at a moment's notice whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Sometimes they are relentless but it's what builds the camaraderie of the job. In firefighting you see tragedy on a daily basis and it's one way of letting off steam. The World Trade Center went well beyond what a firefighter sees on a daily basis. Only time will tell if these wounds will ever heal.
Kevin took it and could dish it out when the need arose but don't let an outsider try that. He might turn the other cheek as that was Kevin, but his fellow firefighters would not let it go further.
One story goes that it was after a fire department "Medals Day" ceremony when some of the honorees/recipients were celebrating in a local pub, an individual approached Kevin who wore no medals at the time and inquired in an undignified manner as to why. Kevin ignored him but the fellow persisted. Fellow firefighters said "Lou, show him." Kevin said, "No, let it lie." The heckling continued whereby firefighters once again asked of Lieutenant Donnelly, "C'mon Lou, show this guy." Kevin reached into his pocket and produced a handful of ribbons and medals that he placed upon the bar. The heckler's jaw fell agape and the firefighters told him to "Get Lost." Kevin replaced his awards back in his pocket, not in disrespect but in his eyes he was not a hero. He bought a round for the brothers because after family, "the brothers" came first.
Ask friends about Kevin and they will say he was a hero. He was truthful and honest with his friends as well as others. Kevin was conscientious (except when it came to a clock) in all his undertakings and this followed him through life.
He was also very competitive with swimming and track, his favorite activities. You could find Kevin running in the NYC Marathon as well as the LI Marathon. If the fire department sponsored a benefit race you could count on KD running. His enjoyment of swimming started with competition in the Levittown Swimming Association as a youngster. His companion Mary Coughlin said he always had trunks, goggles and a towel in the car just in case he got a chance to swim. It might have been this competitive nature that made him the hero he was. Fire became competition and Kevin hated to lose.
When he was about 12, he started KD's Lawn Service by towing a lawn mower behind his bike. It escalated into a successful service in the Levittown/Wantagh area and continued into the spring of 2001. Kevin was at a point in his life where his career was about to escalate. He was a lieutenant and to become captain would take many hours of dedicated study. In addition, he was also teaching a Fire Safety Director course in Jersey City Community College. He had already gotten his BA from Hofstra and was due to get his masters from John Jay College in "Protection Management". He had studied hard and come far. The lawn service would have to go much to the dismay of his many customers.
Yes! Kevin W. Donnelly was a hero but he was also so much more. A good man, a son, brother, uncle, a loving companion to Mary Coughlin, a teacher, firefighter, boss, gardener who was honest, truthful, and conscientious and loved by many. All those that he touched will miss him. He was a brother firefighter and my friend.