By Patricia Adams
Captain James J. Corrigan served with the FDNY for 25 years before retiring in March 1994. Following his retirement, he accepted the position as Fire and Life Safety Coordinator at the World Trade Center.
On September 11, 2001, Corrigan led the excavation of children from a day care center at the Trade Center and then offered his help to the FDNY. He was last seen working alongside Battalion Chief Joseph Grezelek in the South Tower trying to establish communications and instruct FDNY units to evacuate when the tower collapsed.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Corrigan’s wife Marie and her two sons, Sean and Brendan, attempted to get her husband listed under FDNY in The National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation. The FDNY’s refusal to that request came as a great shock to the family.
The department argued that because Corrigan was not on active duty, he was not entitled to the same honors as active firefighters.
A legal battle ensued centering on a 2002 law allowing the families of retired firefighters who died at the World Trade Center to be given the same economic benefits as active duty firefighters. Also, the law states that retired firefighters like Corrigan were “as of Sep- tember 11, 2001 to have been fully reinstated to full active employment status, at their highest achieved rank and status.”
Marie Corrigan and her sons believe that since the legislation reinstated her husband as an active duty firefighter, he is entitled to the same merits and awards as other firefighters who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.
The FDNY contends retired firefighters who died in firerelated activity have never been honored in the same manner as active duty personnel. Furthermore, they believe the law is being misinterpreted: it was passed to provide economic benefits, not awards or merits—or memorials.
But on Monday afternoon, Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate ruled that Corrigan’s name belongs on the memorial.
“While this court hesitates to become embroiled in the internal decisions of the FDNY regarding a matter of such a sensitive nature,” Agate wrote. “There is simply no rational basis for the FDNY’s position herein given the circumstances of Captain Corrigan’s death, the legislation enacted thereafter, and the FDNY’s own manner of honoring and acknowledging his sacrifice.”
Agate noted many instances where FDNY treated Corrigan as a firefighter who died under active duty. Corrigan is listed on the FDNY’s website’s 9/11 memorial page, and his name was included in the FDNY Memorial Service in Madison Square Garden on October 12, 2002.
And when Corrigan’s sons both left their private sector jobs to take the FDNY entrance exam after their father’s death, they were given a legacy credit on their exams, which is only given if a parent is killed during active duty.
Given the circumstances, Agate ruled the FDNY’s decision to not include Corrigan in their memorial was “arbitrary and capricious,” and ruled he should be listed under FDNY.
From her home in Bayside, Marie Corrigan told The Forum what the decision means to her and her family. “This decision allows us to move forward. I think Justice Agate got it right on.” She went on to say that the judges ruling addressed all the critical points of the issue especially in responding to the FDNY’s view on the matter.
But the Corrigan family’s temporary relief was halted on Tuesday afternoon when Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that he planned to appeal the judge’s decision.
"We're not going to reopen this. We'll fight this in court," Bloomberg said. The decision made by Justice Agate could reverse years of negotiations on how to list victims’ names. Now, Bloomberg says the plans for a Ground Zero Memorial set to open on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011 could be delayed. "If you want to delay the memorial for a couple of years, you start opening it up and revisit everybody. You're never going to make everybody happy."
Speaking about the city’s decision to appeal Justice Agate’s decision, Marie Corrigan said, “Obviously I’m very disappointed. But we will continue to go forward and do whatever we have to.” Continuing on she said, “One of the most important things involved here is that my husband was returned to active duty status in 2002. The refusal to recognize that is a clear violation of an existing law.”
Marie Corrigan was quick to respond to the mayor’s remarks about the possible delay to the opening of the memorial,. “It’s the city’s choice to contest the decision that was made. We’ve already been to court. A 2002 law supports us. The judge has ruled in our favor. Any delay has nothing to do with the court’s decision-- it has to do with the city. The ball is in their court.”
R. James DeRose III, an attorney for Marie Corrigan, also spoke out about the mayor’s decision. "We urge Mayor Bloomberg and the heads of the FDNY to give Captain Corrigan the honor he is due as a hero who gave his life for the city, rather than insisting that they do not need to follow the law of New York state, the decision of the New York courts and what is morally correct,"
Former City Councilmember Tony Avella says he has worked with the family for years. “I'm flabbergasted he [Bloomberg] and the city continue to fight this. The city's continued refusal is baffling. Bloomberg fails to un- derstand, in my opinion, the basic needs of the average New Yorker. He has no compassion."
Officials at the FDNY say they are looking into the court’s decision but declined further comment.