When his best friend died, Shell Kaylie became a surrogate father to that friend’s young son.
That son, David Weiss, grew up to become a decorated firefighter with Rescue 1 in Manhattan. He died a hero at the World Trade Center on 9/11, along with every member of his company on duty the day of the terrorist attacks. He was one of three Jewish New York City firefighters to die on 9/11 at the World Trade Center.
“He was on the 30th floor of the North Tower and got a ‘Mayday’ to evacuate the building,” he said. “David said, ‘No’; there were people on the 50th floor who needed his help.”
Kaylie said Weiss never got off the 30th floor as the building collapsed and he was swallowed up in the mountain of debris. While he did not work “in the pit” with rescue workers, Kaylie was at Ground Zero for a week-and-a-half after the attacks, helping and hoping.
“They never found him,” he said. “No helmet, no boots, nothing.”
Kaylie recalled with pride a previous act of heroism six years earlier that earned Weiss a medal from former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. After seeing a car go out of control and plunge into the East River along the FDR Drive, the off-duty Weiss pulled over, climbed down the trestles from the highway, and jumped into the water to pull out the driver, who had suffered a heart attack. Unfortunately, the man later died.
A 14-year FDNY veteran with two small children, Weiss was 41 at the time of his death.
“It affected me terribly because in all essence I was his father,” explained Kaylie. “If you had questioned me five years earlier, I couldn’t have done this interview without bursting out crying. To me he was a son.”
“Whenever he would introduce me to the men on the job he would say, ‘I want you to meet my father,’” recalled Kaylie.
On the footstone at Weiss’s grave in a Long Island cemetery, the monument company originally inscribed the word “victim.” However, when the surviving members of Rescue 1 — those who were not on duty on 9/11 — visited, they were infuriated.
“The monument people came in and corrected that to ‘hero,’” said Kaylie. “He was a hero; he wasn’t a victim.”
To this day, Kaylie — a former Brooklyn resident and retired sales manager for a paint distribution company — makes Rescue 1 a regular stop every time he goes into Manhattan and is always greeted warmly.
“Firefighters are a very close-knit bunch; they’re like a band of brothers,” said Kaylie. “My heart always goes out to them.”