Saturday, September 10, 2011

Retired Firefighter's Values Reinforced Since 9/11

Brother of fallen FDNY veteran reflects on the years after the terrorist attacks.

By Joseph Kellard

To Rob Carlo, it felt like September all summer.

His brother, Michael Carlo, 34, was a firefighter with Engine 230 in Bedford-Stuyvesant since 1994 when he was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and Rob avoids any thought about that horrific day until the anniversary each September. But this year, with the heightened attention on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and with many people calling him after Osama bin Laden was killed in May, Rob has relived 9/11 daily.

“I usually can put it off until September and then start worrying about it, but this year it’s just been overwhelming since then," Rob said.

A retired firefighter from Ladder 23 in Harlem who arrived at the WTC site later on Sept. 11, Rob said he's been mostly unaffected by post-9/11 events, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the memorial and mosque controversies at the site, to the death of bin Laden. He said he feels for the families of troops who were killed or wounded, and he finds it too stressful to get involved with any controversies.

“I can’t say anything has changed me or my values so much," Rob said about the aftermath of 9/11, "it just reinforced what I always knew and always believed in."

He and Michael always believed that they were never too busy to let anything interfear with what mattered most to them, from vacations to family.

“If we had an vacation we wanted to take, that was just as important as a job that we had to get done,” Rob explained. “So we put it on the calendar. We made sure we got it done. A family reunion that was coming up, it might not be the most convenient time, but if you don’t spend that time with family, you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to do it."

Rob recalled a deadly fire in Woodside on Father’s Day in 2001, a day he spent with his brother. “We talked about how we could walk out of there and get hit by a bus, or come down with a life-threatening disease, or something could happen at work on our jobs as firemen,” he said. “So we really did appreciate living life and we didn’t waste any time.”

Rob rented a house in Long Beach with Michael in 1999, after which he moved there permanently. Rob describes Mike as a life-of-the-party type who enjoyed socializing and spending his time on the water, kayaking and boating. They played volleyball together on the beach, between Grand Boulevard and New York Avenue, where Rob decided to buy a bench on the boardwalk in his brother's memory.

He chose his Michael's favorite quote, one by Mark Twain that he kept on a Post-It note over his desk, for the plaque inscription: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade wins in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”

A few years ago on Sept. 11, Rob emerged from a swim in the ocean off Grand and noticed a crowd had gathered around his brother’s bench. They were Michael’s childhood friends from their native Whitestone, who since 2002 had made it a ritual to visit his bench before sundown on the anniversary.

Rob then had something else he would never miss each year. He joins Michael’s friend and his own friends there at sunset each 9/11, along with family members, fellow firefighters and neighbors from Tennessee Avenue. The crowd has grown each September, he said, and estimated that some 75 people attended last year.

“It’s the one time I get to see my brother’s friends,” Rob said, “and it always feels like he’s there, because when I see them all around we start sharing stories about him, and someone always has a new one.”

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