The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Following in their father’s footsteps
Firefighter Christopher Blackwell died during the 9/11 attacks; now his adult kids are first responders
Coping with the death of her husband may have gotten easier over the last 20 years, but former New Fairfield resident Jane Blackwell says time has not healed all wounds.
“I guess you find ways because you have to, but it doesn’t go away,” said the widow of Christopher Joseph Blackwell, a New York City firefighter who grew up in New Fairfield and died rescuing people at the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The 42-year-old father of three was a decorated firefighter with Bronx-based Rescue Company No. 3 — one of the more than 200 New York City fire units dispatched that fateful morning when terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the twin towers.
Blackwell — who had celebrated his 20th anniversary with the city’s fire department just five weeks prior — was among the more than 340 firefighters who died in Lower Manhattan that day.
“I never thought that he would go to work and not come home,” said Jane Blackwell, who still lives in the Putnam Lake, N.Y., area, where she and her husband relocated to from New Fairfield in the mid-1980s.
Christopher Blackwell had been a New York City firefighter for more than 20 years, as well as a part-time paramedic with Danbury Ambulance — but his first responder experience dated back even further.
When he was 16 years old, Blackwell became a volunteer with New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Company A.
After graduating from Danbury’s Immaculate High School in 1977, his wife said he joined the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter paramedic.
He was discharged at the right time to become a firefighter in New York. New York City firefighters not only had to be at least 21 years old, she said, but had to live in one of the five boroughs or certain counties within the state.
“He had been in Putnam Lake since coming home from the Air Force because he was trying to get on the job, and I moved over in 1985 — the year we got married,” Jane Blackwell said.
She said he chose Putnam Lake because of its close proximity to New Fairfield and he didn’t want to cut ties with the town where
they grew up and met.
Involved in countless rescues throughout his career, Blackwell earned some of New York’s highest awards, including the Thomas Kenney Award for Courage in 1990 and the New York Medal of Valor in 1992. He also received the Heroism and Community Service Medal in 1989, according to his obituary.
“He had a uniform full of medals,” his wife said. “One of his really big medals he got for saving a lady after a plane went off the runway at LaGuardia (Airport).”
Jane Blackwell said she will never forget the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was at work. I worked for Danbury Ambulance, and some of the crew people … had the TV on in the backroom when it all started to go down,” she said.
When American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s north tower at 8:46 a.m., Jane
Blackwell said her colleagues started coming up to her and asking if her husband was working that morning.
That was how she first learned something was going on in New York City, and she went into the backroom to watch the TV.
“Chris worked for a rescue fire company and they automatically go to anything big, no matter where they’re stationed, so I assumed he was headed there,” she said.
After United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the south tower shortly after 9 a.m., Jane Blackwell said there was no doubt in her mind that her husband was either there or on his way.
“Things changed very quickly and I knew he was going there. I knew his unit would be there. There was no question asked,” she said.
Jane Blackwell said she continued watching the news with her colleagues up until the towers fell. The south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., followed by the north tower at 10:28 a.m.
“As soon as they came down, I booked it. My kids were at school and I had to go get them,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t good. They knew what their father did, and I didn’t want them hearing about it in school. I wanted them all out.”
Jane Blackwell said her husband was “an absolutely terrific dad” to their three children who were around 14, 13 and 11 years old when he died.
“Chris loved his children more than anything,” she said. “He would do anything for them, anytime. He didn’t miss events. He was always there, even with his busy schedule.”
Although she can’t remember how long it took to find out, Jane Blackwell said learning that her children’s father would not be coming home was devastating.
“We still talk about him all the time. We miss him very much,” she said. “I feel like he’s missed so much. With my oldest getting married, my son getting married and having children, and my youngest getting married soon — all that kind of stuff, it hurts. We wish he was here.”
Jane Blackwell said she believes he would be proud of the people their children have grown up to be and their accomplishments over the last 20 years. All in their 30s, the children became first responders: Alexandra an environmental conservation officer, Ryan a New York City firefighter, Samantha an emergency room nurse.
“They all turned out to be good kids — and I’m not just saying that because they’re mine,” she said with a laugh.