NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Every year on September 11th at the World Trade Center, firefighter Jim Sorokac performs a solemn duty.
“My specific job is to toll the bell at the proper time in history,” he tells Sean Adams.
The NYPD and Port Authority now share the task. But for 10 years, Sorokac alone stood at attention for four and a half hours and tolled the bell.
“I glance down a little bit and I see the families of those individuals holding up the pictures, holding up the signs. The children of the deceased – some of them never met their father or mother,” he says. “That’s what I focus on, trying to give it back.”
The weighty charge is also personal.
“I lost 47 friends that day – guys I worked with, guys I taught with, guys we used to barbecue with,” he says.
On September 10th, 2001, the FDNY Ceremonial Unit had just five members. Immediately, the department added 50 more for the arduous task of planning and conducting 343 funerals or memorials.
“Within a week, we were doing eight to 12 services a day, seven days a week, for almost seven months straight,” Sorokac says. “The record we did was 22 services in a 24 hour period.”
Sixteen years later, their work goes on. Illnesses contracted from the toxic World Trade Center dust continue to claim lives — more than 30 FDNY funerals so far this year. The ceremonial unit ensures a fitting tribute.
“That to me is the ultimate of respect, loyalty. And that is what the individual deserves. That’s why I do what I do – to pay back, to give my way of saying goodbye,” he says.