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Larry King: Firehouse visit brought me close to tears

By Larry King
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- For years I've been telling people firefighters are my favorite professionals to interview. They're an interesting breed of cat. They run into burning buildings as we run out of them.

So it was an honor for me to go to New York last week for the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and visit Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 of the New York City Fire Department.

The firehouse lost all 15 of its men on duty on 9/11/2001, more than any other New York firehouse. In all, 343 city firefighters lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center. (Watch fiefighters remember the men they lost-- 7:12)

Engine 54 is housed in a small, nondescript brick building near Times Square. But the firefighters show it off like it's a penthouse at Trump Tower.

They were proud to show off their kitchen with the dishwasher donated by David Letterman. They showed my young sons Chance and Cannon the pole they slide down, and they were generous enough to take pictures with the boys and give them T-shirts. These firefighters are family men and they treated my boys like their own.

But it's the love they show for their fallen comrades that makes this firehouse a home. The 15 firefighters killed that day had 28 children between them. They've built a place in the firehouse to honor them. Pictures of the deceased firefighters line the wall, accompanied by messages from their families.

One son left a card that said "Super Dad." Another family left a stone from the cemetery plot.

I was almost moved to tears reading this message, "If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again."

I was surprised at how emotional the visit to Engine 54 was. Our segment on Monday's Larry King Live was seven minutes long. On "CNN Presents: Firehouse 54:4, A Larry King Special" Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET we'll spend an hour with them, and believe me you'll feel like you're with family.

Perhaps fittingly enough, when I think about my time at Engine 54 my mind goes back five years, when I was in New York to cover the 9/11 attacks. I was talking to a young man who said when the time came for him to decide whether to become a police officer or a firefighter he chose to be a firefighter. The reason, he said, was "everyone is always happy to see a firefighter."

I couldn't agree more.


story.lkl.firehouse.jpg

Larry King interviews members of Engine 54:4 who lost 15 of their fellow firefighters on 9/11.

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