Guiding Force From Below
It looked like the flight deck of the starship Enterprise. The operations control center in the World Trade Center basement was hooked up to every surveillance camera and intercom in the twin towers. Only 15 people were authorized to enter. John R. Fisher, a Port Authority security consultant, was one of them.
As debris from the first plane to hit the towers rained down, Mr. Fisher, 46, rushed to the bunker. He refused to leave so long as he could guide people out of the buildings. "John probably saved quite a few lives," said his friend and co-worker Ed Bonny.
Anyone who worked with Mr. Fisher knew he was obsessed with details and hated running into anything unexpected. But his personal life was different. "If there was an ostrich, alligator or anything unusual on the menu, you just knew that's what John would order," said Gail, his former wife. On a vacation to Costa Rica a few years ago, he swung through a rainforest canopy on a steel cable and climbed up the side of an active volcano.
His sister Catherine Chiola said the compass of his heart always pointed to his seven children in Beachwood, N.J. Two years ago he took all seven, then aged 4 to 14, to Disney World. He treated them royally, escorting them to every ride, hauling onto his shoulders any who were tired. He kept up that performance the whole week, losing none of them, nor the slightest bit of his patience.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 11, 2001.
John Fisher, 46, security specialist for P.A.
John Fisher was in a car headed for a meeting in New Jersey when the first hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center.
Mr. Fisher rushed to a basement command center. As a security consultant to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he helped oversee the operation of a $35 million high-tech security system installed after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. He needed to make sure that the security system in the other tower would continue to operate and that the evacuation was handled properly.
"He went back in knowing full well that he was entering a dangerous situation," said Greg Albanese, a former co-worker. "He went back in to help save lives."
Mr. Fisher, 46, is believed to have perished after one or both of the towers collapsed. He was the father of seven children, ages 6 to 16.
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mr. Fisher's parents moved to Union when he was about 11. After graduating from Union High School, Mr. Fisher began working for his father, Richard, who was an electrician.
At 24, he met Gail Kerwan and the two married in 1984.
The couple moved from Union to Beachwood when their first child, Erin, was a toddler, and son Evan, now 14, was just a baby.
"He (Mr. Fisher) wanted at least four (children) because he didn't want anybody in the middle," said Gail Fisher, a nurse. "He was the middle."
Their third was Bridget, now 12.
The pregnancy that would have been number four brought the double blessing of Kyle and Ryan, now 10. After them, came Margaret, 8, and Katie, 6, though not necessarily in the plan but cherished nonetheless.
"It was a heavy load, but he always managed to carry it somehow," said Erin Fisher. "He did what he could for us."
There were family vacations in the pop-up camper and day trips hiking New Jersey's trails. Mr. Fisher would usually be carrying one child or another on his shoulders.
After Mr. Fisher and Gail Fisher divorced last year, he would split the kids up and take them on alternate weekends to his Bayonne apartment.
"He liked to spend time with the boys and take the boys to do boy things and he would always take us girls to the mall whenever we wanted," Erin said.
There were trips to Chinatown, baseball games and other New York tourist sites. Mr. Fisher was a Little League coach, and enjoyed playing video and computer games and chess with his kids.
"He loved his children," said Gail Fisher.
Mr. Fisher had tried to complete an engineering degree at NJIT, but he stopped after about seven years of night school.
His expertise in technical and electronic security made formal education irrelevant. For the past four years, he had been a full-time security consultant for the Port Authority's Technical Services Department, overseeing security systems at the World Trade Center and other Port Authority properties.
"John was one of the foremost experts that I have ever met," said Albanese, former deputy chief investigator for the Westchester (N.Y.) County District Attorney.
"He was somebody who went beyond the call of duty," he said.
Besides his children and father, Mr. Fisher is survived by his mother, Anne Byous of Georgia; a brother, Robert of Edison; and two sisters, Catherine Chiola of Galloway, and Tina Fisher of Weymouth, Mass.
Profile by Kimberly Brown published in THE STAR-LEDGER.