(NEW YORK) — He was 39 years old, but those who knew Carl Asaro remember him as “a big kid.” He was a man who loved music, his wife, six children and his job as a firefighter.
“He would still have like a lot of energy and come play with all of the neighborhood kids,” his daughter Rebecca said. “He was big on riding his bike, throwing the football around and playing his guitar. If he wasn’t with us, that’s all he did. He was a huge Grateful Dead fan. He was either humming the songs or playing on the guitar.”
Asaro worked at Engine 54, only four miles from the World Trade Center.
On Sept. 11, 2001, he was one of the first responders who answered the call to help. Of the 15 people who left from Engine 54, Ladder 4 that day, none returned home.
Now, 20 years later, 65 children of New York firefighters who died have picked up their own helmets, inspired by their loved ones’ ultimate sacrifice.
“I think during this time it’s kind of expected to feel those old feelings and feel them resurge, but the days in between, when you don’t expect it — when a song comes on the radio and you see something that reminds you of him, those are the days that hit you a little bit harder,” Asaro’s son Carl Jr. said.
Four of the six Asaro children went on to continue his legacy as firefighters — Carl Jr., Matt, Rebecca and Mark, who were 13, 12, 9, and 7 on 9/11.
Rebecca remembers it was her mom’s turn to carpool that morning.
“I saw my dad that morning. That night before I asked him for tic tacs. I remember I was begging him, so before he went to work he dropped ‘em off and he kissed us goodbye,” she said.
“In school they kept calling us one by one. My mom when she picked me up… she was just so frantic… I remember my mom was back and forth on the phone,” she said. “I was 9 and didn’t really understand much of what was going on… I thought my dad pulled up one day and it was the chief to tell my mom what was going on. My mom didn’t understand so then it finally hit her days later that he wasn’t coming home.”
Matt took the bus home that day, knowing his dad was at ground zero.
“I was proud but I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the severity of it,” he said. “We didn’t have no cell phones back then, and I remember just calling him and beeping and no answer, no answer. That’s how life got to be without him. Coming down here and just waiting — people getting found everyday- alive, dead. They didn’t find nothing, not a bone, not a hair, not a memento. It just kind of sucked.”
Asaro’s body was never found, so his family opted to bury a guitar instead, filled with notes from loved ones — a symbol of his love of music.
Rebecca was eventually inspired to follow her dad’s footsteps as a firefighter by seeing his impact.
“It’s like the department’s small and my dad had such a big heart,” she said. “Through the years after 9/11 we talked to people.. He impacted so many.”
For Matt, he said the bond formed at the firehouse “is like no other.”
“We grew up here,” Carl Jr. said. “I think for us to give back and live a life of service is one way to really feel connected with my dad and for us to feel whole in a way.”
The siblings agreed that being a part of the FDNY helped them cope with the incredible loss.
“They’re a big part of our lives — has been and always will be,” Matt said, joking that his dad might have pointed out he wanted them to become doctors instead.
For five years, his namesake Carl Jr. didn’t visit ground zero. Now, he finds it peaceful, saying that because it was the last place his father was, he considers it his father’s final resting place.
On the eve of the anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history, Carl Jr. reflects on a discussion he had with his sister.
“We were talking about how you’re only truly dead when your name is mentioned for the last time, and I thought that was powerful,” he said. “If that’s the case my father and these men that were killed that day and sacrificed their life, they’re going to live forever through their legacy and their actions.”
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