Those are the people who never knew him. But those that did know Jimmy Young have not forgotten, and they never will.
On March 28, 1994, Engine Company 24/Hook & Ladder 5 raced to the scene of a fire at 62 Watts Street in Manhattan. It is hard to comprehend the courage it takes to run into a burning building. All of our instincts scream at us to run away from danger, yet there are those that not only face it, they stand up to it. They run towards it.
They put their lives at risk to save and rescue people they do not know.
We lost three brave souls as a result of that fire. Captain John J. Drennan, Firefighter Christopher J. Siedenburg, and Firefighter James F. Young.
Jimmy had just turned 31 that January and was a true son of Woodhaven. He was baptized and confirmed at St. Thomas the Apostle, where he also went to school. He used to deliver the Leader/Observer and even wrote for this paper for a while, delivering recaps for the neighborhood softball league.
“I didn’t have one day's problem with Jimmy, he was close to perfection,” his mother Virginia says. “He got along with everyone. He never smoked, never drank. I can’t tell you how many of my friends wanted him to marry their daughters.”
Virginia Young says that everything happens for a reason, that life’s tragedies must be part of a larger plan. “We almost lost Jimmy in a car accident, almost 10 years to the day before the fire," she recalls.
And to illustrate this point, Virginia Young reminds us that this accident happened at Atlantic and 87th, the street that would one day bear her son's name. "It was touch and go, but we prayed and he survived and he made a vow to live his life to the fullest,” she said. “And he did.”
Jimmy’s sister Maureen says that her brother touched so many lives, that she hears stories about him from people she never knew. “He must have had 500 close personal friends,” she said. “He knew everybody and everybody knew him.”
She reflects on the last time she saw Jimmy at a birthday party for their brother Michael. “He was leaving to take his girlfriend home, and we said ‘See you later’ to each other, and that was it,” she remembers. “The fire was a few days later.”
Shortly after a funeral during which the streets of Woodhaven were flooded with more than 10,000 firefighters, Maureen gave birth to her daughter.
“I really wish that he'd gotten to know my kids; his nieces and nephews,” she said. “I wish they had been able to know him.”
One of Jimmy’s best friends, Jack Lentini, created a Facebook group "for everyone who knew Jimmy so they could share their memories and photos of him." Hundreds of people have joined the group where they reminisce and share stories about Jimmy.
They share memories of the times they hung out together, listening to music, playing softball, having fun. They reminisce about the conversations they had and the jokes they shared and the funny nicknames he gave them and the poems that he wrote in his marble composition notebook.
They remember the kind and generous acts of a man who would go the extra mile for people, whether he knew them or not.
“I couldn't believe all of the memories they had of Jimmy,” his mother said. “I’m very grateful. That people remember him, even 20 years later, shows you how special he was. I miss him so.”
Maureen says that reading memories about Jimmy gives you an idea of the kind of life he led.
“He was so generous and outgoing, he made friends with everybody,” she said. “He touched so many people’s lives and made an impact on them.”
She finds comfort in the words of the Facebook memorial page, especially with the anniversary approaching. “Time heals all wounds,” she says. “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.”
And so, if you weren’t familiar with the man behind the name on the sign on 87th Street, you now know a little more about him and the sacrifice he made. And you now know that those that knew Jimmy Young best honor his memory by remembering him not just for how he died, but for how he lived.