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9/11: Lament to an American hero - firefighter's story

Firefighters on 9/11
Image caption More than 300 New York firefighters lost their lives

In the latest in our series on 11 September 2001, reporter Steven McKenzie recalls covering the funeral of a New York City firefighter, one of more than 300 fire personnel who died that day.

The strains of Scotland the Brave filled Fifth Avenue.

Members of New York fire department's pipes and drums marched at the head of a red and white fire truck carrying the body of one of their own.

Firefighter Durrell "Bronko" Pearsall's body had been pulled from the ruins of the World Trade Center a month after he was killed on 11 September.

The 34-year-old had served with Rescue 4, Engine 292.

He had captained the fire department's American football team, dubbed The Bravest, and played drums with the FDNY Pipes and Drums.

With the band Bronko, attended the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow and had made friends with Strathclyde fire crews.

The FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums' ties with Scotland, and also Ireland, run deep.

When it was set up in 1962, it bought bagpipes from Scotland and its first kilts were supplied by Granger and Campbell Ltd in Glasgow.

The tartan is registered with the Scottish Tartan Society in Stirling and it was worn at Bronko's funeral.

The firefighter from Hempstead, on Long Island, had earned his nickname because of his powerful physique. He was over 6ft tall and built like an American football player.

One friend said Bronko was so strong he could imagine falling steel bending around his body, allowing him to survive his mission into the stricken trade centre.

It was November when the funeral was held.

Image caption Properties around Ground Zero remained untouched long after the attacks

Heavy machinery was now at Ground Zero clearing the rubble.

Photographs and handwritten messages that had been stuck to nearby walls, appealing for help tracing people reported missing in the wake of the attacks, had become tributes to the dead.

Relatives and friends of those who had died stood with tourists at vantage points over the site.

Some wore face masks against the dust and ash that still filled the air.

Many of the surrounding properties had remained untouched since the day of the attacks and bore evidence of the clouds of ash that had barrelled down Manhattan's streets like an avalanche when the Twin Towers collapsed.

Across the street from Ground Zero, garments in a window display of an abandoned clothes shop were covered in a thick fur of ash. The grey layer of ash mirrored the curves and folds of the fabric hidden beneath it.

The grim shades at Ground Zero could not have contrasted more with the colour outside St Patrick's.

As Bronko's coffin was brought into the cathedral, kilted band members along with police and fire officers in blue uniforms and white gloves stood at attention.

A piper played Amazing Grace.

Foo Fighters

From the church, his body was taken to Holy Rood cemetery on Long Island.

There was a short service among grey gravestones and leafless trees in the winter fire glow of a sunny, but cold, afternoon.

Before the coffin was lowered into the ground a bottle of Irish whiskey was cracked open.

Image caption The Foo Fighters song My Hero was played at Bronko's wake

It was passed around a group of firefighters and band members before one of Bronko's best friends poured a generous measure over the casket.

Later, a video of Bronko was played at the wake at the Hempstead Country Club.

The Foo Fighters' song My Hero played as a soundtrack to the footage.

According to their website, the FDNY Pipes and Drums have received numerous inquiries from pipers and drummers from across the world asking if they could join them during anniversary memorials.

In a message the band has thanked musicians for their offers of support and added that events organised by the city would be limited to its hundred or so members.

The messages ends: "We ask that you support our fallen brothers and the band by coming to watch our many events on the anniversary of this terrible tragedy.

"Your presence will mean a great deal."

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