Born to Serve
Firefighter Kevin Smith spent almost 20 years preparing for Sept. 11. When he called his wife, Jerri, that morning, his voice trembled with excitement, not fear.
"He was saying, `All my work during all those years and now here it is,' " Mrs. Smith said.
In the early 1980's, Firefighter Smith, 47, became a charter member of the Fire Department's hazardous materials unit. Then, after the first trade center bombing, in 1993, he was detailed to the mayor's Office of Emergency Management.
He took on the most dangerous aspect of a most dangerous occupation because that was the kind of thing he had always done. "He just had this desire to serve," said his sister Catherine. "And he loved being in a uniform." He was a Boy Scout. Then a marine. He joined the volunteer fire department in Mastic, on Long Island, where he lived, and there met Mrs. Smith, an ambulance volunteer.
When they married, both brought children, eight in all, from earlier marriages. Each one inherited the same steely notion of service. One now is a sailor. One a marine. Two daughters are taking the police exam. And one son, Brian, who was a Fire Department emergency medical service officer on 9/11, was there, and survived, when the towers fell on his father.
"Sometimes, in my own self-pity, I sit and say, `How much can one family give?' " Mrs. Smith said. She said she had been tempted to tell the world to leave them alone. But then she thinks of Firefighter Smith, so quietly devoted to family and work. "And there comes the pride," she said, "of knowing we are all still following him."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on March 8, 2003.