FIREFIGHTERS ON THE LINE

The beauty and grandeur of the Firemen’s Memorial has been an iconic meeting place for New Yorkers since its construction in 1913. Commemorating Duty and Sacrifice, the monument serves as a tribute to our fallen heroes.

Each September, as the beauty of Summer gives way to the bounty of Fall, firefighters from all five boroughs, across the country, and around the world gather in the early morning on Riverside Drive at 100th Street to commemorate the families and lives of the 343 brethren who perished on September 11, 2001.

Drawing tribute from all branches of the military, the regiments stand at attention as their corps forms a impenetrable barricade along Riverside Drive, exemplifying the steadfast and selfless service of their calling as they hold the line. Spanning over 300 feet, the assembly serves as a marker for “ordinary time”, the moment when we are guided to reflect upon our personal commitment to serving the greater good. Intimate and solemn, this non-publicized annual ceremony continues to serve as a pilgrimage site.

Fine art photographer David Katzenstein has been documenting the annual ceremony at the Firefighter’s Memorial for the past 16 years. In addition, David travels extensively throughout the world creating narrative imagery for global corporations and philanthropic organizations. Spontaneous, authentic, and bold his lens captures the essence of each moment providing his audience with an intimate view of the world around us, one that celebrates our shared human experience.

On June 22, 2018 The FDNY Captain Vernon A. Richard High School for Fire and Life Safety celebrated as 58 High School Seniors donned their caps and gowns. This was the 11th graduating class of the school. Renamed in 2016 in honor of FDNY Captain Vernon Richard, who made the Supreme Sacrifice on September 11, 2001, the school’s curriculum strives to introduce students to a future career with the department, as Firefighters, Paramedics, or EMTs. The High School is largely funded by the FDNY Foundation providing exceptional opportunities to young people across the five boroughs.

In the words of 2018 Valedictorian Jada Martin, ”Being a firefighter is something I’ve been passionate about since I was little.” She will be attending the FDNY Youth Summerer EMS Academy and plans on becoming a member of the department after college. Providing meaningful academic and career opportunities for young men and women, mentoring a future generation, as well as offering free safety and preventative educational programs to the public are just a few examples of how NYC’s Bravest go above and beyond the call of duty.

The silence that cloaked the city in the moments after the towers collapsed on 9/11/01 still rings with a deafening toll. At 8:46 am lower Manhattan came to a complete standstill. At 9:03 am the second tower was struck. Traffic came to a halt; along the avenues, drivers and passengers got out of their vehicles, and looked south as the Twin Towers crumbled. Survivors emerged from the dust and debris, caked with ash and plaster. They walked up Greenwich Avenue, and Hudson Street, and through Washington Square continuing North in silence. Thunderous noise pierced the sky as fighter planes flew low and sirens continued to barrel through the empty cavernous avenues as the wind picked up and carried the horrific smell of burning wreckage throughout lower Manhattan.

8:46 am: The first bell tolls piercing the silence as the names of the fallen are read aloud, one by one, in alphabetical order. 9:03 am: The recitation continues, and the silence cloaks the heavy hearts of the assembly standing in reverence, marking “ordinary time” in tribute to the 343 firefighters and their families who gave without question.

NYC is the most diverse community in the world. Composed of 8.5 million residents speaking as many as 800 languages, our neighborhoods bristle with the vitality of true democracy. Side by side, day by day, we work, we live, we dream. We celebrate and share culture. We build communities. We build homes. From Ft. Tyron Park to Battery Park, from Wave Hill to Vinegar Hill, we rely upon the quiet presence of New York City’s bravest, the FDNY, to protect us from harm. Every person, every day.

The fellowship of firefighters knows no borders. From the Five Boroughs to the suburbs of Paris, the International community of men and women who pledge an oath of service, bravery, safety, honor, dedication, equity, and preparedness, speak the same language. Assembled at the Firefighter’s Memorial thousands of uniformed firefighters join the families of the heroes in pilgrimage to this shrine in honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


FIREFIGHTERS ON THE LINE is part of Katzenstein’s larger body of work, The Human Experience, a collection of his visual explorations that span over the past 30 years. His work presents the positive aspects of peoples and cultures, and takes the viewer on countless journeys near and far.