BY LIZ GOFF
Once each week, Janice Waters leaves her Glendale home to bring her husband a cup of coffee. The task itself it not unique – it is Waters’ destination that makes it an act of enduring love.
This Maspeth Firehouse is home to the FDNY’s HAZ MAT Co. 1 and Squad 288. The units lost a total of 19 men on September 11.
“He always had a cup of coffee in his hand,” Janice Waters said. “There is a story in one of the firehouses where he worked, about how the men always knew which officer was working by how much coffee was brewing. He always had two pots brewed,” she said.
So each week, Waters – coffee in hand – visits her husband’s grave, where she leaves the steamy brew for the man she married almost 20 years ago.
Waters’ husband, FDNY Special Operations Captain Patrick Waters perished on Sept. 11, while helping victims escape from the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Patrick Waters was one of 19 men from the Maspeth firehouse who rushed to their deaths on Sept. 11. Queens Haz Mat Co. 1 (which Waters commanded) and Squad 288 suffered the greatest loss of any firehouse in New York City when the Twin Towers collapsed.
Patrick Waters’ dream of becoming a New York City firefighter came true in 1983, when he left a lucrative job with an insurance company to “step up” to the challenges faced by New York’s Bravest.
He was awarded a departmental medal in 1997, after he jumped into a frozen East River to rescue seven people when a Greenpoint pier collapsed. And in his final moments – caught on video – he entered the South Tower just moments before it collapsed and headed up a staircase, as terrified victims fled to the safety of the street.
Waters was one of the rescue workers whose final moments were caught by French filmmakers and broadcast as part of the CBS TV documentary “9/11.”
Janice Waters viewed a four-minute clip of the documentary that showed her husband entering the tower. The filmmakers sent a separate clip to each of the rescuer’s families to view in private, before the show was broadcast.
The clip was difficult to watch – especially the first time, Waters said. But she had to view it before she showed it to her sons, Daniel, 10 and Christopher, 14. “I had to prepare myself to show it to them,” she said. “They had to see it. I had to prepare them for the day after the documentary aired – for discussions at school and questions from their friends.”
Patrick Waters loved sports – and volunteering to work with children. “If it needed to be done, he did it,” Janice Waters said. He coached ice hockey, basketball and baseball teams in his son’s schools, local church teams and teams sponsored by the 104th Precinct Community Council.
“He loved being involved with the boys’ teams,” Waters said. “And he was an avid Yankee fan.”
Waters spoke with gratitude about the men of Haz Mat and Squad 288 who have stepped up to fill the void in her sons’ lives. “The guys make a point to show up at their games,” she said. “It was really important for my little son to see them there, just to be there for him.”
She said, “We’re never really alone. We live close enough to show up at the firehouse whenever the boys need to be with the guys. They talk to them, draw them out, and help them deal with their loss.”
When Janice Waters received World Series tickets to the Oct. 31, 2001 game, she took her sons to the Bronx to watch the fall classic that their father loved.
“That afternoon, the boys said they wanted to take their dad to the game with them,” she said. “They had made a huge poster with his photo and the words ‘Captain Pat Waters – Yankee Fan To The Very End” written on it,’ Waters said.
“I think it was their proudest moment – when they held up that sign at Yankee Stadium.”
Squad 288 shares the Maspeth house with the Haz Mat unit. On Sept. 11 the two units responded together. Squad 288 boasted 25 men prior to Sept. 11, including one captain and three lieutenants. Today, the squad is operating with 17 men. One man is still listed as missing – his remains either buried beneath the rubble at Ground Zero or among those yet to be identified by the City Medical Examiner’s Office.
McArdle said the men of Squad 288 are trained in both hazardous material removal and counter-terrorism: i.e., the Bomb School, nerve agents and biological warfare.
Of the FDNY’s elite Haz Mat rescue units who raced to the Twin Towers after the first plane struck, Lieutenant Philip McArdle said.
“They were exceptional people, they worked hard and trained hard and were, without exception, completely dedicated and committed to their specialized fields.”
McArdle said it will be “impossible” to replace those in HAZ MAT and Squad 288 who perished – the “top one percent of the FDNY’s Haz Mat and counter-terrorism specialists.”
The FDNY Haz Mat unit was established in 1982 by then-Mayor Ed Koch. Men assigned to the citywide response unit initially worked out of Rescue 4 on Queens Boulevard. In 1984, the FDNY created Haz Mat Company 1, designated as the City’s sole dedicated hazardous materials unit.
Haz Mat Co. 1 boasted a roster of four officers and 35 firefighters prior to Sept. 11. Today, there are 24 men assigned to the unit. McArdle said the bodies of five men from Haz Mat have not been recovered.
“They are either still buried in the rubble or are among the 15,000 partial remains yet to be identified,” he said.
He Didn’t Have To Go
Lt. John Crisci had changed into his civilian clothes and was headed home when the first plane struck on Sept. 11.
“He should have been on his way home,” said Crisci’s wife, Rafaelle. Instead, Crisci changed back into his gear and jumped on a rig headed for lower Manhattan.
Rafaelle Crisci recalls her shock and disbelief when her husband failed to call home on Sept. 11. “We headed in to Fort Totten late that night,” Crisci said. “We were told to meet with a FDNY social worker there, to get information.”
Crisci said the social worker gave her the news she had feared most – that there was absolutely no hope. But that didn’t stop Crisci from hanging on. “I remember calling the firehouse on “Sept. 12, 13, 14… and asking the men to check his locker. Were his civilian clothes gone? And was his car gone from its spot outside the house?” she asked. “I was certain that he would come home.”
No one made better barbecued ribs than John Crisci, Rafaelle Crici said. The Crisci’s backyard grill was always smoking – a centerpiece for family gatherings, and neighbors who caught the aroma of Crisci’s homemade sauce.
Crisci arranged with a fellow firefighter to have the day off on Sept. 9, his son Michael’s 10th birthday. As a payback, Crisci would work through the night of Sept. 10.
Family and friends gathered at Crisci’s home on Sept. 9, celebrating with Michael, clowning around and reminiscing. “It was our last day together,” Rafaelle Crisci said. “It was really difficult for Michael to get over the fact that his dad switched days for him.”
Crisci, a police officer at the 88th Precinct until the 1975 New York City fiscal crunch, got his call from the FDNY in 1977. “He was a typical firefighter in every way,” Rafaelle Crisci said. “He loved painting and fixing up around the house – so I have a bunch of unfinished projects at home.
“The boys each remember him in their own way,” she said. “They each picked out items from his locker to keep. They have them in their rooms.”
Crisci said her husband is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside – his grave overlooking the site where he died.
On Valentine’s Day, she brought him some chocolate-covered strawberries – his favorite. And last November, on the day they would have been married 24 years, she popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and poured it on the grave. “It might sound crazy,” she said, “but it was just between us.”
“This house was harder hit than any other in the city,” McArdle said. “Yet we got zero support from the Fire Department – or any other group or agency.
“We pulled together, and took care of our families and each other. We established an in-house fund for our families, and with it we took care of some other houses, as well,” he said.
“When we most needed the job to support us – they weren’t there.”