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William Burke Jnr
Age: 46
Occupation: Captain, Mahattan firefighter, Division 3, Battalion 8
Worked for: FDNY
Originally from:
Resided in: Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan, NY
Submitted by: Irish Tribute ()

Other links: F.D.N.Y. Tribute

A Firefighter, a Hero 'That's Billy'

William Burke Jr

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From NY Daily News Oct 26, 2001

'Leader of Men'

At vast St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, Capt. William Burke Jr. of Engine 21 was recalled as both a devoted firefighter and a lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park.

Singing at his service was Broadway star Christine Ebersole, a longtime friend of Burke's girlfriend, actress Teri Seier.

Friends and family leave St. Patrick's Cathedral after funeral of Capt. William Burke Jr.
Burke had led people and fellow firefighters to safety from 2 World trade Center, then went back into the burning building to search for more civilians. Moments later, the tower collapsed.

"He got his men out safely and paid the ultimate sacrifice," said Firefighter Mike Fagin. "William Burke, you are our hero."

Burke, 46, was also hailed for his outside work B he was a Civil War buff, journalist, artist and photographer.

Mayor Giuliani called him a Renaissance man and Jean Traina, a friend of 17 years, said Burke "made everyone feel special, important and beautiful."

"He may have been defined by the world as a firefighter and lifeguard, but he had the soul of an artist," she said. The 20-year FDNY veteran also worked 26 years as a lifeguard.

Stew Kaplan, who worked with Burke as a lifeguard, remembered his knack for making friends and passion for history.

"He was the most engaging person I met B intuitive, thoughtful and intelligent," Kaplan explained. "He was always the first to go to a rescue and take a younger guard under his wing. Helping people was second nature to Billy."

Burke, whose father was deputy chief in the Bronx, and his six brothers and sisters were hailed for "their good relationship" by Edward Cardinal Egan.

Outside on Fifth Ave. under overcast skies, firefighters lined up six deep from 49th to 52d Sts.

Inside, Giuliani was joined by Egan, UN President Kofi Annan and State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro.

Kaplan said Burke made adults "feel they were a king or queen and kids princes or princesses. He is my Oscar winner and cover story all in one."
-- Anon (other)
26 Oct 2001

William F. Jr. Burke

A Firefighter, a Hero 'That's Billy'

September 16, 2001

Capt. William F. Burke Jr. had just led people to safety out of Tower Two of the World Trade Center. He told the firefighter with him to leave and then went back into the building to look for more civilians. Seconds later, the tower collapsed, Burke's brother James said Friday.

"That's Billy," close friend Sonja Fagan said of Burke's returning to the building. Those he had rescued "turned around, and he wasn't there," she said.

Burke, 46, had been a firefighter for more than 20 years. He could have retired, but he loved the job. "I was talking to one of his friends who asked him once why he wanted to be a fireman, and he said, 'I want to be a hero,'" his brother said.

Burke grew up in Plainview and was one of six children. His father, William Burke, was a fire chief, and he aspired to be the man his father was, Fagan said. "He could have been anything, but he always wanted to be a fireman," recalled another friend, Terri Seier.

A natural leader, he was a mentor to many younger firefighters as an instructor at the fire academy at Randalls Island. After funerals for other firefighters, he was the one who consoled grieving friends and family. His presence was reassuring, steady, his friends said.

Burke, an all-county swimmer in high school, had also worked more than 20 years as a lifeguard at Field Three of Robert Moses State Park. "He was a great lifeguard," said David Spence, lifeguard captain. He paid attention to his job, knew what to do in a split second, willingly went into the face of danger. "I knew the saves were going to be made with people like him there."

When someone was in danger, "he was always the first one to be there," said Richard Zacker, his supervisor at Field Three.

A charming raconteur, "He just made things fun. He was like a bright spark of life in the middle of things," Spence said.

It was at the beach where Burke introduced Sonja Fagan to his longtime friend, fellow firefighter Michael Fagan. "He knew that we would be right for each other," she said. "A week after we met, he told his brother, 'I introduced Mike to his wife.'"

Seier met Burke nearly five years ago at a restaurant on Valentine's Day. He wrote his phone number on a napkin, put musical notes on it and said, "Call me." She did, and they have been friends ever since. She still has the napkin.

He loved Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and was fascinated by the Civil War. He visited Gettysburg four or five times, Seier said. On their first date, he took her to Grant's Tomb.

A few years ago, Burke became interested in photography. He would take pictures of friends and would transform them into funny comic strips with word bubbles above their faces, Fagan said.

Some he turned into postcards. The day before the attack, he sent a picture of the lifeguard crew to Zacker. On the back, he had written, "I know this is high praise coming from el moron, but this was the best summer I ever had at RM 3. Sometimes nice guys do finish first. Thanks, Billy."

In addition to his brother James, Burke has two brothers, Christopher and Michael, and two sisters, Elizabeth and Janet.

Burke is the only one missing from his company, Engine 21 in Manhattan, his brother said.

At the firehouse Friday, Burke's fellow firefighters were under instructions not to give interviews. In the background, somber music could be heard while over the loudspeaker came the words, "We don't lose heart." --Sandra Peddie (Newsday)
-- Jay Dooling ()
12 Nov 2001

From NY Times, Nov 11, 2001

'Rendered by the Flame'

Calling Capt. William F. Burke Jr. a firefighter is a little like referring to Elvis as an entertainer. Captain Burke took the job description and set it over the high flame of his personality, rendering something else entirely. "He always made everything better," said his brother Michael, "and in Manhattan, it's nice to be around somebody like that."

Like his father, who worked in the South Bronx in the 1960's when fires raged around the clock, Captain Burke, known as Billy, believed in putting his men first. On Sept. 11, he ordered them out of the north tower, his brother said, while he continued searching for people to rescue.

In Stuyvesant Town, the Manhattan residential complex where he had an apartment, Captain Burke, 46, enjoyed a parade of admirers. Some were romantic interests, penciled into his address book, drawn by his singular charm. "The first words out of his mouth every single time he met a woman were, `Have you lost weight?' " his brother said. Then there were the neighbors he helped out. He liked to bicycle to his firehouse, Engine Company 21 on East 40th Street, but if he saw someone struggling with groceries, he'd screech to a halt.

He spent 25 summers working as a lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park, and a friend, Stuart Kaplan, remembered how the oldest living Jones Beach lifeguard turned up one day. The man was sickly and in a wheelchair, but his dearest wish was to swim in the ocean one last time. Captain Burke put an arm around him and helped him into the waves. Afterward, they shared a cold beer and then another. Everybody went home happy.
-- Anon ()
26 Nov 2001

The essence of my brother Billy was a sense of honor and duty, a duty to something bigger,more important than himself. Throughout his life he always looked out for the little guy,always befriended the friendless,always helped those in greater need than himself. Billy had to remain in that building,he had to stay behind and help every last single person-he had to be the last person out.He had no choice. It was his job. It was his duty. It was who he was.
-- Christopher Burke (Brother {})
22 May 2002

I met Billy Burke in the spring of 1994. I had been asked to go and take some photographs at a Fire Fighters benefit in downtown Manhattan. Thinking back, it must have been Engine 21 that had lost three men earlier that year. I recall the evening being full of big handsome firemen, but Billy stood out from the crowd. It's a cliche, but he was different. We hit it off immediately with banter. He was criticizing the pink and black striped skirt I was wearing and the sandy coloured top. He couldn't deal with the colour combination! I was a British ex-pat with a Green Card. I rather felt he hadn't come across this species of "bird" before. The glinty life in his clear blue eyes, his quick wit and intelligence kept me entertained all evening. At the end of the night, he took my co-workers on me on a raunchy trip around the city (he would always say he was a city driver, not a long-distance driver. He really drove properly, using the gear stick, concentrating.) After we had dropped off the others, we continued our tour. He took me to special secret places with statues he knew all about. He took great pride in his city and in history. It's a cliche but we literally drove all night and it was daylight when he dropped me back at my appartment on the Upper West Side. A real adventure had. Staggering into work late, my stuffy executive search company was agog with how my wild night with Bill had gone. I kept them guessing. He rang and asked me for "tea" that day and we became firm friends. His father had been a firechief hero, my own father had been a hero in the British Army, so that was one of the things we had in common. Bill was funny and self-effacing about being a firefighter and a life-guard as well. I'm an effing hero, he would say ironically. I left to paint in Venezuela, Billy took me the airport. He had been a unique supportive friend at a very intense time of my life. I knew noone in New York. In Bill, I felt I was discovering the essence of New York City. He was like a hedgehog - his tough macho shell protected an incredibly soft, kind underbelly. I was gutted when I saw his photograph on a tape of a documentary that went out here in London last Wednesday, on the first anniversary of September 11. I had made a feeble attempt to find out about him when I had been out in NY last November. I just kept thinking, he will be OK. But I realize now, although I will never be able to speak to him again, that this was a fitting end for an exceptional man. There was an aspect of him that was tormented. He was also completely dedicated to his profession. The idea of not seeing things to the end would not have entered his head. Which is why Tower II got him. This was his destiny. He was a living hero. It was a privilege to have known him and he will live on in the memories of the countless people whose lives he touched so profoundly. God Bless you, Billy Burke. Rest in Peace luv. Colina xxx
-- Colina Campbell-Mitchell (Friend {})
16 Sep 2002

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