Lessons of Helpfulness
To know Robert Foti, 43, meet his children: Alycia, 13, Robert Jr., 12, and James, 5. This winter, Robert Jr. walked down a snowy mountain — twice — to retrieve a stranger's snowboard. When Alycia was 11, she spent the holidays with her stepmother's family and cheerfully helped out in the kitchen. James, little James, is obsessed with the twin towers that claimed his father's life.
For a while Engine 16 and Ladder 7 displayed a snapshot of James and his father that was hard to forget. The "Santa Claus picture," Firefighter Foti's wife, Mary Grace, calls it. She saw them in the bathtub with soapsuds beards like Santas. She ran to get the camera.
"You can't take our picture," Firefighter Foti protested, laughing. He was chewing a cigar and had his arm around James.
"But it's so cute," Mrs. Foti said, snapping the picture.
Now James says, "My daddy died in the twin towers," to everyone he meets.
"He was always stopping to help someone or doing the dishes," Mrs. Foti said. "He would go on all the field trips with the mothers. It was his nature to help others, which explains why he became a fireman."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 10, 2002.