Long Island remembers

Brian Christopher Hickey

  • Age: 47
  • Employer: FDNY
  • Place of death: Tower Two
  • Community: Bethpage
  • County: Nassau

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About Brian Hickey

Brian Hickey, 47, of Bethpage, was a captain in the city fire department's Rescue 4 in Woodside, Queens. He died in the south tower.

"He was the man who walked in a room and heads turned and faces lit up," said his wife, Donna Hickey. "He was the guy you wanted to be with."

A father of four children and busy in his job, he was nevertheless always looking for a new adventure. He was active in the Bethpage Fire Department and became its commissioner. He and his brother Ray had filmed a documentary about firefighting used as a training film. He was working on a book at the time of his death "about his life as a kid growing up, about how fulfilled he was, how happy he was - he wanted to share," his wife said.

He was also fair, she said. "Even when he fought with you, you would be having a beer with him an hour later."

"He loved his life and lived it. He wasn't afraid. He loved being a fireman and loved being a husband and father," she said. "He had everything in his life he wanted. He couldn't sit; he was never one to sit. He was just a go-getter. He saw something he wanted, he got it. He didn't sit back and let life pass him by."

Losing him has been hard, she said. "My life as I designed it is over," she said. "Not to get negative or morose, but other than the children he was the best part of my life." - Ridgely Ochs

This profile was originally published in 2001/2002

All they ever found of Brian Hickey was his Rescue 4 fire captain's helmet, an almost unrecognizable husk of mashed and torn leather.

For his wife, Donna, it would finally have to be enough.

"The man is the helmet, the helmet's the man," Donna Hickey said, shortly before her husband's funeral. "If that's all I got, then that's where he is."

On June 11, 2002, his 48th birthday, and nine months after the Bethpage native died in the World Trade Center's Tower Two, that battered helmet was borne in a flag-draped coffin on the shoulders of his fellow city firefighters past thousands of mourners to his place of final rest at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended the funeral, standing at attention with the firefighters in sweltering heat for half an hour outside St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church in Bethpage. But he did not speak.

Instead, family and friends spoke and cried about a man who started as a volunteer and rose into one of the city Fire Department's most respected jobs, accumulating as many medals as friends. They remembered a man of integrity, a perfectionist who was promoted to battalion chief after his death; a lifelong volunteer who fought for training improvements as an instructor at the Nassau Fire Academy and for sprinklers in senior housing as a commissioner of the Bethpage Fire District. A devoted family member whose favorite movie was "It's a Wonderful Life" and its motto that the best measure of wealth is in how much love one has given and received.

"He wasn't a hero because of his death; he was a hero because of the way he lived his life," Hickey's stepson Dan Smith told the gathering, with Hickey's other children, Jaclyn, Dennis and Kevin, beside him. " ... He was the kind of person I wanted to be and hope to be ... his legacy lives on as an example to guide us."

For Hickey's rescue company, which lost seven men Sept. 11, the funeral marks the end of an especially tragic year. On Friday at Rescue 4's quarters in Woodside, Queens, plaques will be dedicated to firefighters Harry Ford and Brian Fahey, who were lost on June 17, of last year in the Father's Day fire at a hardware store in Astoria. Hickey, who also was injured in that fire, was working only his second day back on the job when he was killed.

While Donna Hickey was one of the first wives in the frenzied early days to admit her husband wasn't coming back, the past nine months have been a kind of "limbo," she said, with the family trying to go on as if nothing had changed.

After Dan Smith's honorable discharge from the Marines in the spring of 2002, he vied for a spot in the city Fire Department. Jaclyn kept up with her schoolwork, her cheerleading, and her job at an Italian ice store.

Donna went ahead with a planned move to a bigger house that had been under contract when the Trade Center fell. The Rescue 4 guys and other friends built a wraparound porch and gazebo and re-landscaped the property.

But before her husband's funeral, Donna was a wreck. A bitter grief, finally, had claimed her.

"The kids are falling apart, we're falling apart. Nothing's where it's supposed to be, nothing makes sense," she said, fidgeting with her husband's wedding band on her index finger. (He had adopted a thinner band for the job's sake.)

"We're all at each other's throats, because there's no one to be angry at, and that's the biggest problem. It was his job, and we all knew it and accepted it. It just made him so happy ...

"So now he's going to have his day. We're going to lay him to rest, and I'll have somewhere to go, and the kids will have somewhere to go. The rest is up to time."

For firefighters facing a handful of funerals, the passage of time has brought little relief.

"It's getting harder now," said Squad 288 Capt. Denis Murphy, a longtime friend of Hickey's. "The rest of the world is moving on, but we can't get past it. It's like [the movie] 'Groundhog Day,' repeating itself over and over, except it's not funny." -- By Elizabeth Moore

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