The word hero is defined as someone who is admired for their courage and noble qualities. Patrick “Paddy” Brown was all of that and more. He was murdered on September 11, 2001.
Paddy grew up in Queens, New York, raised by a father who was an FBI agent and former minor league baseball player, and a mother that taught music. As a kid, he’d loved the firehouse and felt at home there. Paddy joined the Boy Scout Explorer Post which specialized in fire service when he was a teenager. As he got older, Paddy joined the New York Fire Patrol and was assigned to Fire Patrol 1. He was well on his way to becoming a full-fledged firefighter.
But war came calling.
At 17 years old, Paddy enlisted in the Marine Corps with his father’s permission. Feeling the need to be a part of something bigger than himself led him to putting his firefighting dreams on hold. After arguing his way out of a clerk position, he was moved to the 3rd Engineers Battalion and immediately deployed to Vietnam.
It was there that he would crawl through the tunnels constructed by the Vietcong, being one of the first to search and clear them. Paddy completed and survived two full tours of Vietnam, making it home at the rank of Sergeant. For his time in service he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and Vietnam Service Medal.
Paddy came home to a country divided over the war and found himself lost. Paddy turned to alcohol to push down his demons, unable to find hope or good in his surroundings. He confided in fellow firefighter Tim Brown that he recognized he was traveling down a dangerous path and needed to course-correct. Paddy replaced alcohol with boxing and eventually became an AA sponsor. Soon, Paddy was back at the New York Fire Patrol with the goal of becoming an FDNY firefighter.
On January 28, 1977, Paddy graduated and was assigned to Ladder 26 in Harlem, officially a part of the FDNY. It wasn’t long before he began making a name for himself with frequent rescues. By 1982, he was being recruited to Rescue 1 and 2 – units filled with the best of the best in the FDNY. By the time he hit 10 years as a firefighter, his personal awards and recognitions for heroism were astounding. Paddy achieved the rank of Lieutenant on August 8, 1987.
All of this was done quietly. Tim shared that when Paddy would wear his dress uniform, he would often leave off some of his medals to avoid making people feel inadequate, because he had so many. Despite not wanting attention, a daring rope rescue in 1991 would make him known everywhere. By 1993, he was promoted to Captain and on October 21, 2000 he was assigned as Captain of Ladder 3.
September 11, 2001 changed everything.
Paddy was on duty when he witnessed the first plane hit the World Trade Center. He quickly called the dispatcher to tell them what he saw and Ladder 3 was immediately tasked with responding. When he made it to the North Tower, he ran into Tim in the lobby and gave him a hug. Tim shared that there was something in his eyes and voice as he headed up the stairwell.
Paddy knew he’d never make it out.
As the South Tower collapsed, the North Tower swayed. Ladder 6 was told to evacuate, as was Ladder 3, which Paddy was leading. His last known words are as follows: “This is the officer of Ladder Co. 3. I refuse the order! I am on the 44th floor and we have too many burned people with me. I am not leaving them!”
Not long after that radio call, the North Tower collapsed. Tim had just narrowly survived the collapse of the South Tower himself when he watched the North Tower fall.
In that moment, Tim shared, he knew all of his friends were dead.
Paddy and Michael.
Paddy’s brother Michael, who was a doctor and former FDNY firefighter, spent weeks searching for him in the rubble and ash. On November 10, 2001, a day that should have been spent celebrating both the Marine Corps’ and Paddy’s birthdays, a memorial service was held for Paddy, instead. The lines stretched around the block, with people coming to mourn the loss of a hero. Paddy’s family was overwhelmed with incredible stories about their hero that they had never known before.
They wouldn’t find Paddy’s body until December 14, 2001.
In 2010, Michael wrote the book What Brothers Do, about both his search for Paddy and his journey to discovering who Paddy really was. The book is being relaunched and has a new urgency to its message of what makes a true hero. Michael was diagnosed with cancer, caused by searching in the ruins of the towers. His hope is that the story of Paddy and all of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, will never be in vain.
For every purchase of What Brothers Do, a portion will be donated to the Tunnel To Towers Foundation. Click here to grab your copy today.