Better Angels on NEPR, New England Public Radio

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John Voci from NEPR sat down at my dining table with me a couple months ago and we spoke about Better Angels for about 45 minutes. He put together this really lovely piece about the Springfield Museums exhibit that scrolls through all the paintings as I speak.

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Better Angels at the Wood Museum of Springfield History

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The exhibit has been open for barely three weeks now. It looks wonderful on its custom-built wall. A week ago I gave a 45-minute talk, which was a first. I spent days putting it together. Keeping it to 45 minutes was the hard part. I had the chance to meet Springfield’s Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant. He and a team from Springfield had gone down to Ground Zero a few days after to see how they could help.

Springfield MA Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant

Springfield MA Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant

This week I spoke with the docents. They made me think of many things I had never considered – such as how to speak with children about the paintings. What to say at what age? How to engage them? Docents 4


Yesterday also gave me my first and only opportunity to have the paintings photographed without their protective acrylic covers – so no reflections.

John Polak photographing Better Angels

John Polak photographing Better Angels

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Springfield Museums Exhibit – Springfield MA


Thankfully we had a clear blue sky delivery day to bring BETTER ANGELS to the Springfield Museum in Springfield MA. Still two weeks until the opening. BA Crate1 on LiftgateI rented a larger truck than I have every driven to have loading dock height at Eastworks where I live and work, and a (barely) deep enough lift gate to off-load it at the museum.

Crate 2 on PalletJack


I am always a worried Mama when the paintings are being moved. That’s Guy McLain on the right, Director of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. I owe him a big thank you for bringing these firefighters out of their crates.

BA Crate2 in Truck

See. Much bigger truck than I needed.

Springfield Museum entry

We install a week from today and the exhibit opens on January 12th, 2016. More pics soon.maincolorlogoHZ


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Father Mychal Judge

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As a small child, Fathey Mychal Judge sometimes gave his only quarter to a beggar on the street. Having lost his own father when he was six, Judge shined shoes at Penn Station to help his family survive. He would visit St. Francis of Assisi Church just across the street. Seeing the friars there made him realize he “didn’t care for material things… (he) knew then that (he) wanted to be a friar.” Judge began the path towards ordination when he was just 14. In 1986, he was assigned to St. Francis and would stay with them until his death. In 1992 he was made a chaplain of the FDNY.

He counseled firefighters, police, the families of TWA Flight 800 crash victims, AIDS patients, alcoholics and more. Many considered Judge to be a living saint. While praying, he would sometimes “become so lost in God, as if lost in a trance, that he’d be shocked to find several hours had passed.” Judge’s former spiritual director observed that, “He achieved an extraordinary degree of union with the divine. We knew we were dealing with someone directly in line with God.”

When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59, debris came flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge, who was struck in the head. Judge had been praying non-stop since he arrived that morning, and performed last rites on those for whom he could.

Shortly after his death, an NYPD lieutenant found Judge’s body. Assisted by two firemen, an FDNY EMT and a civilian, they carried Judge’s body out of the North Tower on a chair. A famous photograph of this is “considered an American Pietà.” His body was first laid on the altar of St. Peter’s Church before being taken to E1/L24 on West 31st where he ate all his meals. His was the first officially registered death of the day, Number 0001.

After his death, Congress revised the rules so that a fire chaplain killed in the line of duty can receive the same Federal death benefits as firefighters. He was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor. His helmet was presented as a gift to the Pope. France awarded him the Legion d’Honneur. Nearly 3000 people attended his funeral. He was 68 years old.

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Deputy Commissioner William Feehan

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Deputy Commissioner William Feehan, 71, was rumored to know the location of every single fire hydrant in New York City. When named Chief of Department in 1992, he was the first to have held every possible rank within the department. He was the oldest and highest ranking firefighter ever to die in the line of duty, with 42 years on the job.

A firefighter tells the story “about a synagogue fire in midtown a couple of years ago. There was a collapse inside the synagogue and a huge plume of smoke came up, and there was a thunderous roar, and everyone was getting out of the way, and here was Bill, running into the smoke and fire — and he was 70 years old!

A military history buff who had served in the army in Korea, Feehan would walk civil war battlefields on vacation. A widower, Feehan had four grown kids and six grandchildren. One of his sons followed him into the FDNY.

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Chief of Department Peter Ganci Jr.

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Chief of Department Peter Ganci, Jr. was the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the FDNY. He was three days shy of his 33rd anniversary with the department. This “smoke eating guy,” was a fireman’s fireman and beloved by his men.

In 1982, while serving as a lieutenant at Ladder 124, Ganci was awarded the B.C. Frank Tuttlemondo medal for rescuing a child from a burning apartment. Knowing children were trapped, Ganci and his men were determined to rescue them. He watched for an opening in the flames then leapt into action when he saw one, scampering under the wave of fire. Throwing burning furnishings out of his path, Ganci pushed on. Halfway through his search of the second bedroom, Ganci found the lifeless form of a 5 ½-year-old girl, scooped her up, and headed for the front window. “Positioned between the hose line and the fire, Ganci absorbed unbelievable punishment because of the fan-like effects a hose line has on a fire.” He began mouth-to-mouth on the girl then handed her over to another firefighter and returned to the fight, assisting with the removal of another victim.

On 9/11, Ganci was on the scene before the second plane hit, directing rescue operations. As the first tower collapsed, Ganci and others ran into the garage of the World Financial Center. Rubble caved in on him, but he dug himself out, exited through the rear of the garage, and went back to West Street, directing firefighters and civilians north to safety. Safety Chief Al Turi was with or near him up until about five minutes before the second collapse. Ganci was heading north, then turned and headed south again. “I’m sure he heard something on his handie-talkie and he was going to attend to it,” Turi said.

Ganci’s body was found within the first hour after the second collapse, buried under about four feet of debris. Feehan was found soon after, about 20 feet away.

This father of three had one son follow him into the FDNY.

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A.C. Donald Burns

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Assistant Chief Donald Burns, 61, had a 39-year career in the FDNY. On 9/11 he was a Citywide Tour Commander. Burns had set up a command center in the South Tower just minutes before it collapsed. Decorated five times during his 39-year career, he was respected as a brilliant tactician and strategist. “Anything you ever wanted to know about the Fire Department, he would have the answer,” Deputy Asst Chief Al Turi said at his funeral. “If you could be half as good a chief as he was you’d still be a good chief.”

The son of a retired battalion chief, Burns was the father of three grown children.

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A.C. Gerard Barbara, CC

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Assistant Deputy Chief Gerard “Gerry” Barbara, 53, was a Citywide Tour Commander. This 31-year FDNY veteran arrived on the scene before the second tower was hit. He then took the role of Incident Commander in Tower Two.

Earlier in his career, “the biggest Yankees fan that ever was” had been Chief of Fire Prevention for the FDNY. A highlight was being called to inspect Yankee Stadium after a 500-pound chunk of concrete fell from the upper deck in 1998.

Named the 1999 Man of the Year by the Columbia Association (the FDNY’s Italian-American fraternal organization), Barbara “was one of the finest people I ever knew,” said the director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. “An absolute class act, a consummate professional whose word was his bond, whose knowledge was his craft.” At his funeral at St. Patrick’s he was remembered as ”a man who never panicked in an emergency.”

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B.C. John Paolillo

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Battalion Chief John Paolillo was promoted to Deputy Chief of Special Operations Command, although the FDNY still lists him as BC of Battalion 11 on their memorial pages with an asterisk designating a posthumous promotion. Paolillo was acting in his SOC capacity on 9/11 when he responded to the alarm with his battalion aide. They arrived at the site just before the second plane struck.
An FDNY veteran since 1977, “relentless dedication” are the words his family used to describe his commitment to his job.

Paolillo, 51, still ran 10 miles almost every day. His brother, a member of the NYPD sometimes ran with him. He tells the story of the time they were jogging when they witnessed a car slam into a divider on the Belt Parkway. John was over the barricades, rescuing the driver and redirecting traffic within seconds. He was a take-charge kind of guy.

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B.C. Raymond Downey

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BC Raymond Downey, in charge of Special Operations Command was a legend at 63. Affectionately referred to as “God” and “Master of Disaster,” he was one of the most experienced firefighters in the world. When “Better Angels” traveled the country, his was one of the most visited portraits on the wall because he was known by firefighters across the country.

Downey was a founding member of the FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Team network, and the FEMA Operations Chief at the Oklahoma City bombing site, among others.

He was a panel member of the presidential committee on terrorism, charged with assessing our domestic response capabilities for terrorism. In the course of a 32-year career, he received five individual Medals of Valor and 16 unit citations. Another chief said that seeing Downey directing a rescue effort was like watching him “directing a symphony orchestra.” He had a keen ability to instantly assess the scene and know what to do. “In a quiet voice, with no discussion, he would start doling out instructions and assignments and call for equipment no one had thought of. Somehow, miraculously, the chaos would transform itself into a smooth and orderly rescue operation.”

Downey had recently been honored with the Crystal Apple Award by Mayor Giuliani in July, 2001. After his death, he received the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the Congressional Fire Services Institute Mason Langford Award, and the Medal of Courage Award upon induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was posthumously promoted to Deputy Chief.

It is believed that Downey and BC Stack were in West Street, both helping a civilian with a torn Achilles tendon when the North Tower came down on them.

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