Among my list of heroes is "FDNY," the Fire Department of the City of New York. The specific listing of FDNY is not intended as a slight to other firefighters in other cities across America and beyond. Even before the Muslim terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the firefighters of FDNY, collectively and individually, paid dearly for the right to represent all firefighters of all time everywhere, and accordingly, they are on my list of heroes in such a capacity. Firefighters in other cities, towns and hamlets across America are no less brave or dedicated than the FDNY firefighters, and, if confronted with disasters of the magnitude of September 11th, would surely respond with the same valor. They ALL are my heroes.
I say this fully cognizant of the fact that the off-duty behavior of some of them leaves much to be desired [e.g., Gill v. City of New York, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6481 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)]. Such rowdy propensities are certainly not to be condoned. But how many times do we hear an excuse to the effect that one who has significant character flaws or cultural deficiencies cannot be expected to contribute to society's welfare? There are plenty of people in the firehouses who have character flaws and cultural deficiencies, but they at least contribute to the good of society. Studs Terkel's book Working includes an interview of a New York City firefighter named Tom Patrick, who says, "You get guys that talk about niggers, spics, and they're the first guys into the fire to save 'em." [Studs Terkel, Working, p. 589 [Pantheon Books, 1972]. The FDNYers have shown the world that personal flaws and deficiencies are no excuse for not doing good for society.
On a more basic level, firefighters have been trained in the practical and scientific aspects of the combustion process. They understand and appreciate the danger even more than the average citizen. And yet, instead of doing the rational thing and running away from the fire, they go right into the burning buildings to save people -- and pets, for that matter! There is a certain heroism in that.
But not all firefighters are misfits who would be among the indolent homeless if they weren't in the firehouse. There are many, including and especially with suburban volunteer fire companies, who could be quite comfortable with their leisure time elsewhere if they so chose.
One such firefighter was Glenn J. Winuk. He was a partner in a major New York law firm, and also a decorated volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician. On September 11th, 2001, Glenn Winuk ran from his law firm's offices towards the World Trade Center in order to rescue people (instead of running away from Ground Zero like most others in his building). He was killed in the collapse of the South Tower. His medical bag was at his side when his remains were finally recovered a few months later.
No doubt on account of his responsibilities with his law firm, Glenn Winuk had downgraded from an active member of the Jericho, New York Fire Department to an associate member. This technicality has caused the Justice Department to deny his family the benefits to which survivors of public safety officers who died in the September 11th attack are entitled.
The DOJ ruling comes in spite of the fact that the New York State Legislature enacted Chapter 368 of the 2005 Laws of New York, which posthumously reactivated Glenn Winuk to an active member. Winuk's family intends to appeal.
Having once been employed by the IRS, I have been trained to think in jaundiced terms of human avarice when it comes to monetary transactions. It therefore has instinctively occurred to me that the Winuk family quest may have more to do with clearing the the DOJ check for $250,000.00 than clearing the Glenn Winuk name. How much of the surviving Winuk family's motivation is motivated by honoring the deceased, and how much is motivated by the prospects for monetary gain? I really cannot say because I do not personally know anything more about the Winuk family than I read in the newspapers.
But even if, arguendo, Winuk's family really is grabbing for the gelt, pecking at the peso, kicking for the kapoosta and dialing for the dinero, this would not make Glenn Winuk any less of a hero.
So rest in peace, Glenn Winuk! You fought the good fight, for which this American is grateful!