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September 10, 2019

Remembering Captain William (“Billy”) Francis Burke, Jr.

by Anne Paddock

On 9-11, 343 firefighters were killed trying to help others. One of those firefighters was Captain William “Billy” Francis Burke, Jr of FDNY Engine Company 21. A firefighter for over 20 years, Captain Burke led his company into the north tower on that September morning but ordered them out of the building while he continued searching for people who needed help or to be rescued.  At 46 years old, Captain Burke was an experienced firefighter who understood the dangers but couldn’t turn around when there were people trapped in the burning building.

Captain Burke made it to the 27th floor where he encountered more firefighters, a parapalegic, Edward “Ed” Frank Beyea in a wheelchair with his friend and colleague, Abe Zelmanowitz who wouldn’t leave his co-worker and friend, Ed. Captain Burke told the other firefighters to leave the building and that he would stay with Ed and Abe. But, before Captain Burke could get them out, the north tower collapsed.  All three men perished. The company and the firefighters Captain Burke encountered on the 27th floor all made it out of the north tower alive.

In 2016, the Courier Journal published an article about the three men – “three extraordinary people living ordinary lives, three remarkable men who were so much more than the circumstances of their deaths” – that is inspiring, amazing, and sorrowful. And, in another article written by in 2011, more details about what happened that morning are were also written about.

To read Captain William “Billy” Francis Burke, Jr’s obituary, click here.

And, to read about what the Burke family is doing to commemorate their brother, click here.

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