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A Firefighter’s Suicide, and the Latent Toll of 9/11

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It’s Wednesday, the first day of a new state law requiring a moment of silence in schools on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Weather: Mostly sunny, but there’s a chance of thunderstorms tonight. The high may reach into the upper 80s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Sept. 30 (Rosh Hashana).


[It has been 18 years since airplanes brought the twin towers down. Read our coverage of the Sept. 11 anniversary.]

As a student at Bowdoin College, Matt Byrne hardly seemed like a candidate for the New York City Fire Department.

But he became one of many applicants after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, 18 years ago today.

By 2006, he was a nozzleman on the fire hose in Engine 9 in Chinatown, pushing him close to the action, and to death.

The devastation of the 2001 attacks on the Fire Department is well known, from its 343 members killed that day to the psychological trauma and medical ailments sustained during recovery efforts at ground zero.

But harrowing conditions for firefighters, of course, did not end with the attacks. In 2007, Mr. Byrne fought the seven-alarm fire at the Deutsche Bank building, which killed two firefighters and injured more than 100 others.

Then there were the two children who “died in his arms” after being run over in Chinatown, said his father, Ed Byrne, a Long Island lawyer who is has written a memoir about his son, titled “In Whom I Am Well Pleased.”

These and other experiences on the job left Mr. Byrne with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

“The term firefighter is a misnomer,” the father said. “He was fine with fire, but it was the constant death that got to him.”

Also, working odd shifts and night tours, “he would come home some mornings all wired and start drinking beer,” Mr. Byrne recalled.

After taking painkillers for a knee injury, the younger Mr. Byrne developed an opioid addiction that included stints at rehab clinics and psychiatric wards.

Creditvia Byrne family

Finally, Mr. Byrne decided to leave the department in March 2014. Then he lost his longtime job as a Jones Beach lifeguard and was charged with driving while intoxicated. That August, he died by suicide at age 34.

“He tried keeping all the emotion down, but in the end, he just couldn’t handle it,” his father said.

Michael Schreiber, a health and safety officer for the firefighters union, said the department’s counseling services unit expanded after 2001 to provide services for mental health and addiction issues, and suicide prevention.

As a firefighter, Mr. Schreiber said, “If your head is not in the game, you can get yourself or others killed.”

“You don’t have to have been a responder on 9/11 to have experienced horrific things on a regular basis,” he said. “You could be laughing with the guys in the firehouse kitchen and minutes later be trapped on the floor above a fire with no way out.”

  • The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is holding a commemoration ceremony at 8:40 a.m. at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in Lower Manhattan.

  • The Tribute in Light will begin shortly after 7 p.m. at the 9/11 Memorial, whose plaza will be open to the public from 3 p.m. to midnight.

  • At 8:46 a.m., St. Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Fulton Street will ring the Bell of Hope given to the city by London after the attacks.

  • The time-lapse film “2001” will be shown from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. free of charge at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights.

Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.


Two of three men suspected in a $4 million jewelry store heist in Midtown Manhattan were identified by the police. [Daily News]

The Kings County Democratic Committee is raising less money because progressives don’t want the group to accept donations from the real estate industry, its chairman said. [Brooklyn Eagle]

Art in motion: The designer Tom Ford staged a fashion show on an abandoned platform in the Bowery subway station. [Gothamist]


Crystal Hana Kim, the author of “If You Leave Me,” holds a reading and Q. and A. at Pier 1 in Manhattan. 6 p.m. [Free]

Join a screening and discussion of Angela Anderson’s new film, “Three (or more) Ecologies: A Feminist Articulation of Eco-intersectionality — Part I: For the World to Live, Patriarchy Must Die” at e-flux in Manhattan. 7 p.m. [Free]

A Dungeons & Dragons event at Threes Brewing in Brooklyn includes music, spells and more. 8 p.m. [$10]

— Julia Carmel

Events are subject to change, so double-check before heading out. For more events, see the going-out guides from The Times’s culture pages.


The Times’s Melissa Guerrero writes:

Don’t expect a platter of herring and bialys. But prepare to be hungry anyway at the new “Russ & Daughters: An Appetizing Story” exhibit produced by the American Jewish Historical Society at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

The exhibit, which opens to the public on Friday, aims to teach visitors about the Russ & Daughters appetizing shop on the Lower East Side and its impact on New York’s rich food and cultural history.

Joel Russ’s first shop opened on Orchard Street in 1914. A few years later, he moved to the current location on East Houston Street. He had no sons and eventually named his three daughters as partners — changing the name J.R. Russ Cut Rate Appetizers to Russ & Daughters. The fourth generation of Russes now operates that shop and others.

Annie Polland, the executive director of the A.J.H.S., said she wanted to create an exhibit to share the Russ family’s archives, as well as artifacts from the historical society’s collection.

“The things that we have saved over the years, whether we thought it was archival or not, there was substance there,” said Niki Russ Federman, who co-owns the shop with her cousin Josh Russ Tupper.

Guests will encounter old photos, including one of a fishmonger on the street; an audio recording of two of the Russ daughters, Hattie and Ann; and posters of Yiddish theater performers. You can even wear one of the workers’ famous white coats for a photo op.

When asked what it was like to see his family’s history on display, Mr. Tupper said: “It still seems sort of unfathomable. It’s still a theory for me, and that question may be answered after Thursday.”

The exhibit is free and on view until January.

It’s Wednesday — what will your legacy be?


Dear Diary:

Uptown, where the delivery trucks double park,
and across the street from the Life Changers’ Church & Ministries
with the big crosses on the door
and near the East Harlem Cafe (“A taste of culture”),
an exhibition is held that the L.A. Times called
an excellent commentary on modern authorship
combining elements of Surrealism and Dadaism
and a brilliant critique of the Modern art market.
Prints hang on white walls,
and the man with the bent back and the falafel in tinfoil
peers in through the window from the street
while the gallery attendant avoids his eyes.

— William M. Fierman


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