Future Fireman at Age 4
When John Collins was 4 years old, his father took him to a Bronx firehouse. That is when he decided what he wanted to do. It took a while, with entrance exams delayed because of a legal dispute, so he joined the Police Department first before becoming a fireman in 1990.
The oldest of five children, Mr. Collins, 42, organized family events, like two weeks each year on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, or a benefit concert on the aircraft carrier Intrepid in Manhattan, followed by a night on the town with his sisters and their husbands. He lived in the Bronx, lifted weights and bought groceries for neighbors who were down on their luck.
He never talked much about his work, his sister Eileen Byrne recalled, because he did not want to worry his parents. "We teased him, said he was the only fireman who never went to a fire," she said.
That is not how they remember him at Ladder Company 25 on 77th Street. On Sept. 11, he was supposed to go to another firehouse to fill in. It was called out before he could get there. When Ladder 25 was called, he jumped on the engine. "We had seven firemen on the rig instead of six," said another fireman, Matt O'Hanlon.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 6, 2001.
John Collins, 42, born to be a firefighter
After three years setting up computers and training his comrades in the New York Fire Department, John Collins couldn't wait to return to doing what he loved best, helping people in desperate circumstances.
On Sept. 6, Mr. Collins, 42, of New York, got himself reassigned from the training job back to fighting fires with Ladder Co. 25.
Five days later, Mr. Collins died as he lived, "an honorable man," among the first firefighters who responded to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, said his mother, Nancy Collins, of Franklin Township.
"He gave his life truly serving others," she said. "It was what he believed in and always wanted to do, to help the next guy."
Mr. Collins' family and friends plan "a celebration of his life," a memorial Mass, at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Matthias Church, 168 John F. Kennedy Blvd., in the Somerset section of Franklin.
"He was a really fine guy from a wonderful family," said the pastor, the Rev. Douglas Haefner.
When Mr. Collins was a child in New York, "his father would take him over to the firehouse where he had a best friend who would put him up on a ladder," his mother said.
The family moved to Franklin when Mr. Collins was 10, and he attended St. Matthias School and Immaculata High School in Somerville, where he played football.
But the early impression stuck, along with memories of firefighters parading on St. Patrick's Day. When Mr. Collins graduated, he applied for jobs at both the New York police and fire departments. The police job came through first, and Mr. Collins spent almost five years on the force.
"When he was a policeman, he used to tell me, 'Mom, you have no idea the way some people are forced to lived,'" said Nancy Collins, who learned only recently that her son would buy groceries for people in his precinct and sneakers for their children.
But his ambition was still to fight fires, and when the fire department offered him a job 13 years ago, he grabbed the opportunity.
"He lived life to the fullest" and reveled in the camaraderie of his fellow firefighters, his mother said.
Although quiet about his own work, "He was a very outgoing guy, the eldest of five, and when he showed up, his brother and sisters would be like, 'Johnny's here, the party's starting,'" she said.
In addition to his mother, Mr. Collins is survived by his father, Martin; a brother, Martin of Readington; three sisters, Anne of Branchburg, Eileen of New Providence and Trisha of Basking Ridge, and a niece, Kiera.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to a memorial fund: Capital Trust Co. of Delaware, Account 45-126220, John M. Collins Memorial Fund, Little Falls Center 1, Suite 210, 2711 Centerville Road, Wilmington, Del. 19808.
Profile by Joe Tyrrell published in THE STAR-LEDGER.