In the Incredible Peoples article, The Creation of a Fireman Part I, Jon Boarman, a
talented and determined high school student from Carmel, Indiana sculpted a bust of a
firefighter from a dramatic September 11th photo hed seen in People
Magazine. His sculpture, which began as a school art class assignment, is a testament
to both Boarmans artistic talent and his remarkable, unflagging desire to fulfill
his childhood ambition of becoming a fireman. It also expresses his tremendous admiration
for the NYC firefighters, and the one unnamed, dust covered fireman in particular, whose
haunting photo in People Magazine inspired him. After pouring untold hours of work
into the project, Boarman wanted to present his sculpture to that fireman. With his
characteristic drive combined with more than just a little serendipity, Boarman was able
to contact, then make plans to meet, the unnamed fireman hed seen in the photo,
Riley is one of the hundreds of New York City
firemen who courageously embraced the work for which hed been trained the
work which others of us depend for our very lives.
It would be a meeting that these two men, bound by a common intent,
will never forget.
IT WAS THURSDAY. School was out for the summer. Jon and
his father made their way to the airport in Indiana with the bust that had been the focus
of Jons life over the past six months. He had spent every waking moment on the
sculpture. He had gone through all the stages one might expect in the creation of a work
of art. He had been pensive with the inception of the idea, completely consumed during the
work, careful, jubilant with each winning result and, in the final days of the firing of
the piece, he had been afraid. Though he had carefully bored hundreds, maybe thousands of
holes in the ¼ -inch clay to release any trapped air, and hollowed it out as much as he
dared, it could still just as easily explode in the kiln. Had that occurred, this story,
the serendipity that had been in play in Jons location of his subject and mentor,
and whatever difference the telling of the story would make to the world would have been
over. Much was at risk. But finally it was done, and it had reached the perfection of this
young mans standards. And we all sighed.
Jons father, David Boarman, had taken the bust to work. In
true community effort two special boxes had been constructed for the two-part bust by
Davids coworkers. The firemans hat separated from the bust and each had been
bound in bubble wrap and carefully crated. It now sat in Jons lap, grasped firmly
between the creators hands, as Jon and his father made their way to the airport. It
would be Jons carry-on for the trip.
Son and father were bound for New York City to connect with the man
whose face had been the focus of Jons work over the past six months. From a simple
color photograph Jon had captured Jerry Rileys face in clay an expression
that mixed tenacity and exhaustion with a measure of agony. It was a grim overlay to a
life that reflected in remarkable eyes a life of purposeful joy. The photo from which the
sculpture was modeled was from the day of the disaster, 9/11. The landing of their plane
at New Yorks La Guardia Airport would mark the day Jon had been waiting for
the day he would present the sculpture to Jerry.
Jons nervousness heightened as he and his father waited in the
hotel lobby early that evening for his friend and mentor. Jon knew every line and facet of
this mans face. Later, once they met, Jon confessed that he often found himself
staring blankly at Jerry with the same focused attention that had entwined him during the
work on the bust. Then hed quickly jerk away, embarrassed that he had been staring.
But now, sitting in that lobby, would he recognize Jerry as he walked in and they met for
the first time? "I was really nervous. I didnt have anything planned to say. I
just wanted to play it by ear."
the importance of a good cook
He pulled up in a fire department vehicle, the battalion
chiefs SUV equipped with all the emergency gear. The Boarmans climbed in and Jerry
took them on a tour of the city on the way to Engine 76, Ladder 22 his firehouse.
Jon described the firehouses in New York as one would describe them in any rural setting
there, too, the firehouses look like houses with very large garages. "Almost
every other street, there is a firehouse because [the City] is so highly populated,"
Jon explained. "We spent that evening at the fire department. And they were great cooks!"
"Ribs," was Jons one-word description of
dinner that night. The ribs being passed around that night werent just the edible
kind. Jon alluded to what was perhaps most remarkable about the time shared in the
firehouse the laughter, the jokes, and the jamming that went on among the members
of the crew. The food in the firehouse was also a topic of jokes but the value of a good
cook was no joking matter. "Anyone can be taught to fight a fire," Jon quoted
their banters. "But can you cook? They hired one guy just because he was from cooking
school, then trained him to be a fireman." One suspects this is only partly in jest.
|Jerry Riley and Jon Boarman
After dinner it was time to present the bust to Jerry Riley
and to the firehouse. "There were about 15 firemen present," recalled Jons
father. "When the two-part bust was presented, the room fell silent. The firemen had
received many things quilts, hats, patches from around the world, (and) many gifts
from Europe. These were all on display in the firehouse. The bust was the ONE thing. Not
one more thing. They grew quiet, very humble about the sculpture. It was very
Jerry Riley is a quiet, unassuming and gentle man. He began his
interview with Incredible People, "Howya dhoo-an?" the one
greeting that would immediately generate warmth and relation-ship. "I was very
impressed by how much work Jon put into the bust," he shares, his voice characterized
by an endearing New York City accent. When asked about his advice to Jon in his desire to
be a fireman, only half-joking, Jerry said, "I told him to go to med school."
Jerry spoke of 9/11 as one might speak of a dream. "Sometimes I
cant believe it happened. I cant believe someone would do this to another
human being. We lost 343 from the fire department. Just about everyone I saw that day
didnt get out."
What drives the desire to be a fireman? "Thats our job.
Thats what we are trained for. These guys are our family. We depend on each other to
be there." Unlike Jon Boarman who had dreams of being a fireman since he was 6 years
of age, Jerry explained, "I just became a fireman I took all the tests. I was
doing ultrasound x-ray at the time, and they called me for the fire department. I just
took the test
I was selected
I joined. That was 21 years ago."
"I live every day like its my last," Jerry described
the impact of 9/11 on his life. "I dont worry about little problems any more. I
try to carry this [attitude] forth into every day now. People from all over the world
supported us financially and emotionally. And New Yorkers everyone pulled together.
People came from all over the City with food, with support
with love." With a
quiet chuckle he added, "It just about ruined our reputation."
"The firemen who were with me that day
we are closer.
Talking about it with other firemen is not the same. Those of us who had experienced 9/11
together had a group session with a counselor. It helped
just talking about it
The guys in the firehouse are "
one giant family,"
Jerry continued. "Some days you get along. Some days you dont. But they are always
family." Riley remains a member of the family working in the firehouse, Engine 76,
Ladder 22, in administration -- he can no longer fight fires directly. "On 9/11, I
stayed there [at Ground Zero] until 6:30 that evening. I had my eyes washed. None of us
had masks for 2 days, and lots of us are having lung problems. Everything was
pulverized, and we inhaled it all." Jon told Incredible People that he
understood from the other firemen that 700 firemen are experiencing lung problems as a
result of 9/11.
David Boarman, an articulate and sensitive man, having spent 3 days
with Jerry Riley and the other New York firefighters of Engine 76, Ladder 22, provided a
unique perspective. David asks us to recognize that in Jerry Rileys mind, he was
just one of thousands of people who participated in attempts to rescue victims and help
survivors. David said he knew that, "
Jerry and the others would like us to stop
making a big deal of this its over, done, lets move on. These kinds of
things are continuations of 9/11 and keep opening the wounds." As an example of the
kind of pain encountered by the firefighters, David reported, "Jerry took us to
(fire)houses where they lost all but one person." And yet, at the same time,
theres an outpouring of people needing to do something. People
have reached out to New York firemen and police in general. I have a sense that people
were overwhelmed. People do the only thing that they can. And that is reach out."
New York City is alive and well, stronger than before. She lives in
the souls of every American and every foreign national who would have it be so. Jerry
Riley, we have chosen you as one person a face weve come to know through the
hands and creative genius of a young protégé a representative of a family of men
and women dedicated to our well being. We thank you.
"Jon," I asked, "are you still interested in becoming
His answer was no surprise. "Of course."
Jon Boarman on visiting Ground
Zero: "We asked Jerry if we could see Ground Zero. We got a taxi and met him
at the firehouse. It took only 6 minutes. In normal times, it would have been a 20- to
30-minute drive. Its completely cordoned off -- there is no traffic. He took us to
Ladder 10, Engine 10, right across from Ground Zero. The firemen call it the Penthouse. We
went up some stairs, about 3 stories. We looked down into a hole about 10 stories deep.
That had been where the Twin Towers stood. I asked Jerry, How tall were the Twin
Towers from where we are? He pointed to a 50-story building across the street. He
said, It was the height of that building times two!"