Mentor to Many
In every firehouse in New York, somebody like Paul T. Mitchell takes the probies under his wing, nurturing them and giving them just enough grief to make sure they can endure. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, at the Tillary Street firehouse, Big Daddy Mitchell taught everything: how to jump in when trouble calls, what to grab when you hear seven bells — the code sending Ladder 110 on a run.
Lieutenant Mitchell, 46, was someone the first-year probationers looked up to. Senior man on the truck, on the back step as a fireman, in the front seat after his promotion to lieutenant. He would go in with the inside team: the guys who cut through doors, looking for people needing help. That's the kind of guy they remember on Tillary Street: husband of Maureen; a sports fan if daughter Jennifer, 20, or Christine, 18, was competing; holder of three citations for valor.
But on Sept. 11, the truck rolled without him.
Off duty, he had stopped by for coffee around 8 a.m. When seven bells rang and the truck left, he soon realized it was trouble, the worst. Without thinking, he grabbed somebody else's bunker pants, black coat with the yellow stripes, boots, helmet. And he was rolling, too.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 30, 2001.
LT. PAUL THOMAS MITCHELL, 46, of New York, a firefighter for the New York Fire Department, got the nickname "Big Daddy" because of his six-foot, four-inch height. The nickname worked on other levels, too. "Even chiefs came to him for advice," said friend and firefighter Christopher Gunn. "Paul had an answer for everything." He also unfailingly came to the aid of family, friends, neighbors – even strangers – in need. "Never, in all my years of knowing Paul, did I ever hear him say no to anybody," said friend Gary Barton. "If you needed a hand, somehow Big Daddy was always there."
Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press