By Mark Wineka
In Brooklyn, N.Y., Thomas Gavitt was watching the news around dinner time Friday night when he saw a brief message that two firemen in Salisbury, N.C., had died in the line of duty.
“It was lucky I caught it,” Gavitt said.
Six years ago almost to the day, Gavitt and his wife, Katie, had been guests in Salisbury as the city honored his role ó and those of his comrades ó as a New York firefighter during and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His visit was part of a program sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that tried to give New York firefighters a much-needed vacation. Gavitt was one of 200 firefighters who signed up for the program, and Salisbury was his host.
During his stay, he received the key to the city. He attended a ceremony at the main fire station and a service honoring firefighters at Grace United Methodist Church.
He and Katie shopped in Salisbury with gift certificates from downtown merchants. They received Cheerwine hats from Richard’s Barbecue and tasted plenty of Southern cooking.
His visit also prompted a pledge from the city of Salisbury to refurbish the long-neglected Firemen’s Memorial at the edge of Chestnut Hill Cemetery in time for the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The city successfully followed through on its promise and has been conducting a 9/11 ceremony at the memorial every year since.
Gavitt is on disability now and no longer a fireman ó his lungs shot from his duties during 9/11 and the rescue efforts afterwards.
Gavitt said when he learned of the deaths of Salisbury firefighters Victor Isler and Justin Monroe, he and his wife knew they should travel to Salisbury.
They drove all night Tuesday and reached Salisbury about 7 a.m. Wednesday. The couple went to the visitation Wednesday afternoon for Isler and Wednesday night for Monroe.
They will attend the 2 p.m. funeral at Catawba College today.
Though Isler was a former New York paramedic, Gavitt did not know him.
Gavitt said Salisbury is full of “good people, true to heart.”
He added that it was good to see the same camaraderie he witnessed in 2002, and everybody helping each other out, “doing what they can do.”
“Six years later, and it’s like I never left,” Gavitt said.
The Gavitts plan to stay until Saturday.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz renewed her friendship with the Gavitts Wednesday and said how touched and honored she was to have them back in Salisbury during the community’s time in need.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka