The usual order in these things is words, quick right, brawl. This time the Bronx guys stayed on their bench. They knew you underestimated Mike Carroll at your own peril. He was powerful. He awed his Ladder 3 buddies by bench-pressing 260 pounds, more than 1� times his weight, in the firehouse's decrepit weight room. That's on the order of what a very strong ballplayer—a Mike Piazza, for instance—can do.
The firehouse and the clubhouse have much in common, with their lockers and trays of food and television sets tuned to ESPN and photos on the walls depicting stars of previous eras. Posted in the Ladder 3 firehouse is a saying that you see in some big league clubhouses: "What you see here, what you say here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here." There are long, bountiful meals—pasta more often than not—at which one guy does the cooking, another the serving, another the cleaning.
In the best houses the feeling of unity is intense. One night in October, at a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, Mike Moran, the football player, took to the stage and said on national TV, "On behalf of my brother John and the 12 members of Ladder 3 that we lost: Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal Irish ass!" Back at the house, everyone howled.
In quiet times a firehouse is a place of games. At Ladder 3, Mike played Foosball for hours at a time and eternal games of H-O-R-S-E on a basket with a net black from diesel fumes. He helped organize the annual Ladder 3 baseball bus trip, most happily in 1998 to watch his Mets play the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He played pranks on the probies and the lieutenants and everybody in between.
Patty Brown became the captain at Ladder 3 in 2000. He was a fire department legend: a man-about-town and one of the best firefighters in the city. One night in his life is now part of his legacy. There was a big fire in a West Side brownstone with a massive mahogany front door. Before the responding firefighters, Bill Carroll Jr. among them, even had a chance to size up the situation, the front door popped open from the inside. Out walked Patty Brown, wearing a suit and a tie, with an elderly man, unharmed, draped over his shoulder. Brown happened to have been down the block, on a dinner date, when he saw smoke. That was his knack, to be at the right place at the right time, like Jeter coming up with the ball in the most unlikely places in Yankee Stadium.
When Brown joined Ladder 3, he asked Mike Carroll to be his "chauffeur," the person who would drive the rig to the job while the captain sat beside him, discussing strategy. "That's like a manager and his dugout assistant, like Joe Torre and Don Zimmer," says Pat Murphy. "Except the captain and his chauffeur get in the game."
It was clear to Murphy and everyone else in the house that Brown had selected a chauffeur in his own image. Brown and Carroll were cut from the same fire-resistant material. They were instinctive, fast, smart. They were brave but never reckless. They weren't "buffs," the department term for over-the-top firefighters. They were pros.
The North Tower was the first building hit. Upon arrival Brown and Carroll and their teammates went to the 44th floor, the starting point for the elevators that go to the building's upper floors. They were removing people from those elevators, many of them badly injured, and getting them to safety.
Outside, the whole nation watched. Bill Jr. reached Mike's wife at her home. She has caller I.D. Nancy picked up the ringing phone and said, "He's working." There was a moment of silence.
"It's just a fire now," Bill said. "They'll put the fire out. That's what they do."