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September 11
Photo Album


WHEN fireman Mike Kehoe was photographed running up the stairs of the World Trade Centre to rescue victims trapped above him, he became an icon for people who wanted to believe that something good could have come out of the tragedy.

The picture appeared in newspapers around the world, but Mr Kehoe's fate was unknown. Most people assumed he had perished trying to save others.

The truth, however, was that moments after the 33-year-old was snapped by a fleeing worker on the 28th floor, he turned round and headed back down the stairs to safety.

He survived the fall of the twin towers, but he has been unable to escape the burdens of fame. Three months on, Mr Kehoe says he wishes the picture had never been taken.

Overwhelmed by the stress of his fame and plagued by guilt that he survived when thousands died, his colleagues have shunned him and his wife has been plagued by questions from people who saw the picture and assume she is a widow. He receives fan mail from obsessed women and from mothers who say he has become a role model for their children.

The photograph which changed Mr Kehoe's life was taken by John Labriola, who had an office on the 71st floor of Tower One. Mr Kehoe appears wide-eyed and slightly dazed, but no-one else is paying him much attention. Since it was published, no-one has stopped paying him attention.

Mr Kehoe, however, is embarrassed he has been hailed as a hero when colleagues who died or did more than him are still unknown.

"I saved one person that day, and that was me," he said. "And it was by running for my life."

Afterwards, he admitted, his biggest concern was for his 31-year-old wife, Edra, who worked as a radiographer and often visited the World Trade Centre.

As luck would have it she was not there on 11 September, but when she realised what had happened, she raced to his fire station and waited for news. The couple were reunited half-an-hour after he rang to tell her he was safe and that he loved her.

Mr Kehoe and his wife were alive, but six of his colleagues at the East Village fire station in Manhattan failed to get out of the towers in time.

The members of Mr Kehoe's crew all survived, but the other crew from the station - Mike Quilty, Rich Kelly, Matt Rogan, Edward Day, Mike Cammarata and John Heffernan - perished.

Mr Kehoe believes those who survived resent the hero-worship he received for being photographed and he has taken time off work for stress, partly brought on by feeling bad that he does not feel worse.

He said: "I feel guilty, like I should be having nightmares, or I should be feeling more. I mean, how come I'm happy about surviving?"

The resentment by other firefighters is strong. A magazine writer preparing a profile received a call saying: "The real hero is not in that picture".

Things got so tense at the fire station that Lieutenant Jimmy Rallis, a higher-ranking officer, began pulling the men aside.

"I told them they should stop giving him crap because these photographs have a long history. The guy in the Baby Jessica picture killed himself," says Lt Rallis, referring to a fireman in Texas who pulled a baby from a well in 1987 and committed suicide eight years later. "Mike didn't ask for his picture to be taken, and he doesn't need any more pressure because of it. It scares me."

His colleagues may not be happy about it, but to many other people, Mr Kehoe is a hero, whether he likes it or not. One obsessed fan - "Judy C from New Hampshire" - wrote almost daily on stationery emblazoned with pink hearts and drove several hours just to see him in the flesh.

A woman from Australia wrote that her three-year-old son, Laughlin, said his prayers each night to the photo: "You are the face that my son has identified as his hero," she added.

And a man from Florida wrote, "Your picture helped convey to the world how average Americans have always performed since our beginnings."

Rosanne Cacciarelli Wise, a teacher who had Mr Kehoe visit her pupils after they raised money for the lost firefighters' relatives, said: "Before 11 September, a hero to these children was Superman on TV. After everything awful that happened, they need some good to come out of it, and he has been that for them the last few months.

"They need a hero they can see and touch."

Mr Kehoe, whose father was also a fireman, is struggling to adapt to normal life against a backdrop of extraordinary circumstances.

He and his colleagues are still attending call-outs in a borrowed vehicle because their own vehicle, Engine 28, was destroyed on 11 September.

When he gets home, he and Mrs Kehoe wade through the sacks of mail which arrive at his home every day. They keep it in a green bin in their living room, and take it in turns to write the replies.

On Christmas Eve, Mr Kehoe was featured in the US's prestigious Time magazine. It has been a long three months for the fireman who, as a child, used to run crying whenever he heard the wail of a fire siren.



MIKE Kehoe will be offering up an extra-special prayer this Christmas.

The present from wife Edra will mean that little bit more, and he'll hug her closer than he's ever done before.

Even the air he breathes will be that much sweeter - because the 33-year-old knows just how lucky he is to be alive this festive season.

On September 11, New York firefighter Mike should have become another tragic statistic from Ground Zero.

A fleeing tourist photographed him on floor 28 of the World Trade Center as he bravely ran into the danger zone following the terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

The picture, published on the front page of The Mirror, showed the determination and courage in his eyes.

Minutes after photographer John Labriola escaped, the north tower came crashing down. No one who saw Mike on our front page expected him to be alive.

He says: "They thought I was dead after that picture was printed. There was a ton of phonecalls. People were so concerned.

"A lot asked my wife Edra how it felt to be a widow. That wasn't pleasant for her. Luckily, she already knew I was alive."

In fact, Mike had been worried that Edra, 31, was a victim. She worked as a radiographer and often visited the World Trade Center.

But she was not there that day. As soon as she heard what had happened, she dashed to her husband's fire station and waited.

Eventually he managed to get through to her on the phone to tell her he was safe and that he loved her. They were reunited 30 minutes later.

The Mirror found out about Mike's survival later that day when we went along to his station.

THERE he was far from jubilant - six of his colleagues were still missing in the rubble of Ground Zero and that was all he could think of.

He said then: "I was lucky. However, I don't feel any relief. I'll feel relief only when they come back."

But they never did. Now the East Village fire station in Manhattan has had to accept six of their sons are gone forever.

The shock and horror have lessened over the months for Mike, but his life has changed.

He expects to have to work Christmas Day. If he does, his fallen colleagues will never be out of his mind.

For his family's sake - he has no children but plenty of nieces and nephews - he will try to make the festive day as fun-filled as usual.

If he does not feel like celebrating, he will not show it.

Mike will manage. He is as determined in every thing he does as he looks in that haunting photograph. But any form of praise for his heroism during the disaster still falls on deaf ears. Modest Mike does not see himself as a hero - just a regular guy doing his job.

He is embarrassed to have been singled out as symbol for the bravery and heroism that hundreds of his colleagues exhibited that day.

He says: "Even though it was just me in the picture, it represents the whole New York City Fire Department because that is what we were all doing on that day.

"It's not just about me, we were all there - I hope people will understand."

He may be strong and insist he was just doing his job but even Mike acknowledges nothing will ever be the same again.

"It has changed my life, it has changed the lives of a lot of people around the firehouse. We have never lost six colleagues before.

"It makes you realise the world we live in. It makes you realise every day can be the day. You never know when it's going to be your turn."

The Mirror pictures led to an avalanche of interest in Mike and that attention has continued. Huge amounts of post arrive at the firehouse for him every day and the media makes constant approaches.

On Christmas Eve, he will be in America's prestigious Time magazine.

On the day we visit, a group of tourists from Worksop, Notts, turns up at the station to meet him. Mike is clearly touched: "Two of the guys knew firefighters in Britain whose fire engine number was 28 like mine. That's why they came to see me."

Three months after The Mirror first met Mike, the physical toll taken by the disaster is no longer evident.

A confident, energetic individual who can hardly keep still has replaced the tired, drained post-September 11 man.

But the mental turmoil will take longer to fade - if it ever does.

Mike, who lives on Staten Island, feels awkwards talking about the emotional impact of the disaster on himself and his colleagues.

But he admits: "We are just getting by. We talk about it in the firehouse, it's like therapy.

"I am sure some have been affected more than others.

"A few of the guys were a lot closer than me to those who died because I have worked here only three and a half years.

"A lot of the guys have been here for 18 or 19 years and knew them really well.

"In the aftermath, they tried to help their families. They were bringing them things - anything they needed."

Pictures and tributes to the six who died - Mike Quilty, Rich Kelly, Matt Rogan, Edward Day, Mike Cammarata and John Heffernan - are still outside the station. Inside is the chalk board listing their duties that day.

It has not been touched since and colleagues plan to get it mounted as a memorial.

The board is split in two - in the first column are the names of the men on fire engine 28, in the second those on engine 11.

Mikes's name and five others are in the first column. They survived.

Everyone in the second column perished.

They decided it was safer to stay in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel at the World Trade Center that day - and paid with their lives.

Mike says: "We are going to have another memorial for them, too, but nothing substantial has been done yet.
"We don't know what form it will take but we are going to do something."

The firemen are under no illusion that Christmas and the New Year will ease any of the tensions.

They are constantly on a high state of alert, well aware that despite the successes in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda could strike again and Manhattan is high on the list of probabilities.

But they are attempting to put it out of their minds.

Mike says: "I am trying to get things back together but it's hard, especially because of all the attention.

"I'm working Christmas Eve, maybe Christmas Day - I don't know yet. Later I'll go down to my father's house and hopefully it will be like every other year.

"I'm going to try to make sure it is as much as possible. I've got lots of nieces and nephews and that will help."

Although those children will be glad just to have him around, they'll also have a hero in their midst - not that Uncle Mike will ever admit it.

Fallen Borthers is made by Brian and Kevin Shea

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