Firefighters, a first responder and a broker: The stories of the men named Thomas Kelly who died on 9/11

The September 11th attacks claimed the lives of four separate people, all named Thomas Kelly

Firefighters, a first responder and a broker: The stories of the men named Thomas Kelly who died on 9/11

The Twin Towers in New York City in September 2000 | Photocall file photo

On this day, 15 years ago, when the world changed utterly, three separate people named Thomas Kelly died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Two worked for the New York City Fire Department, while the third worked for a financial company named Euro Brokers. This neatly, and sadly, captures the level of Irish-American sacrifice on 9/11, as well as the depth of the Irish-American loss.

At around 8:45 am that day, I was stuck on a bus outside of the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey, staring at a snake of smoke emerging from the north tower. Everyone on the bus was sure it was some freak accident; it almost seemed comical. We returned to our newspapers and magazines and music. Surely the authorities would figure out the crossed signals that led some small craft to collide with the giant skyscraper. Then we would get on to our jobs, proceed with our lives.

The traffic began moving again. We entered the Lincoln Tunnel and made our way into midtown Manhattan.

By the time I got off the bus and onto the streets of midtown, it was clear something much more horrific than an accident was transpiring. Several people expressed to me just how loud and low and large the second plane was. "Second plane?" I asked.

My mind began to race. Cousins, friends who were cops, firefighters. My best friend, for whom I’d served as best man at his wedding just three months earlier, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald somewhere above the 100th floor of one of the towers. Neither cell phones no pay phones on the street were working. I could not call home to check on my wife and five-month-old daughter.

Image: Charlotte Newman, 8, visits the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. Fifteen years after the Sept. 11th attacks, downtown New York has been reborn, not just with the construction of One World Trade, but with a host of attractions both somber and vibrant, including the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Mark Lennihan / AP/Press Association Images

I made it as far as 23rd Street, where a crowd had gathered near Madison Square Park, a spot which offered a direct view of the south tower. It was smoking furiously before the crowd began screaming. It was hard to discern what precisely was happening. Quickly enough, though, all I could see was a cloud where the south tower had once been. My best friend never made it into work that day. He was running late, I’d learn the next day.

The same can’t be said for dozens of people I’d gone to school with who were friends, relatives, friends of relatives, relatives of friends. Nearly 3,000 overall on that day - including three different people named Thomas Kelly.

Thomas Michael Kelly worked for Euro Brokers in the World Trade Center. Thomas Richard Kelly hailed from Long Island, and joined the Fire Department to follow in his father's footsteps. Thomas W. Kelly, a firefighter who spent 17-years working at Ladder 15, was known to his colleagues as "Mr. Dependable."

The weeks that followed were surreal. Who was gone, who’d survived, who was still missing. And, of course, who was responsible. All the while there was the clean-up at "the pile," which later became known as Ground Zero. There was lots of talk about moving on and rebuilding. For a decade, lower Manhattan became something of a permanent construction site.

15 years have passed now. Inevitably, emotions have waned. Three of my four children were not even born on September 11, 2001. None of which means however, that the day has quite ended yet.

This past January, over 14 years after the 9/11 attacks, we learned that one of the thousands who worked at "the pile" was a firefighter from the Bronx. He was off-duty that day and, according to reports, had actually been planning to attend an FDNY event to be held in a hotel directly across the street from the Trade Center.

He died of throat cancer on January 3rd, which medical authorities attributed to the time he spent working amidst the toxic air at Ground Zero. He was 58-years-old, and had twin daughters.

His name was Thomas John Kelly.

Tom Deignan is a columnist for the Irish Voice newspaper.