At the young age of 32, Thomas Foley was already an 11-year decorated veteran firefighter of the FDNY and a legend. He was a larger than life individual who embraced life to the fullest and seemed to excel at everything he tried from powerlifting to skydiving. Having learned to ride horses on visits to his grandfather’s farm, he even excelled as a competitor on the rodeo circuit. With boyish good looks, Thomas Foley was featured twice by People Magazine and appeared in the FDNY’s “2003 Calendar of Heroes.”
However, being a firefighter was Thomas Foley’s first passion; it was all he wanted to do since visiting the firehouse of a family friend as a boy “running around and getting filthy dirty.” Years later, young Tommy Foley’s dream was fulfilled; a fellow firefighter remembered Thomas Foley as “Coming out of a fire, filthy, coughing, covered in black soot and when he’d see you he’d have that big smile on his face.” On August 30, 1999, Thomas Foley gained national notoriety when he rappelled down a seventeen-story building to perform a daring rescue when a collapsed scaffold left two workmen hanging on for their lives. He was truly one of the Bravest of the Bravest.
Responding to the attack on 9/11 as a member of the elite Bronx Rescue Company 3, Thomas Foley rushed to the World Trade Center; he and his entire Company would be among the 343 FDNY firefighters killed on that day when the towers collapsed.
Dan Foley, Thomas Foley’s younger brother, had followed in his brother’s footsteps to join the FDNY. He was off duty on 9/11, but rushed to the site when it was reported that his brother Tommy was missing. When it became apparent that Tommy was gone, Dan Foley promised his parents he would not leave the site until he found his brother. Amazingly amidst the tons of rubble and debris, Dan Foley found his brother ten days later and carried the body of his body from ground zero; Dan kept his word, he brought his brother home.
What Dan Foley and hundreds of other first responders engage in the recovery efforts at ground zero did not realize was that they too would become casualties of 9/11. After a distinguished 21-year career with the FDNY as a member of his fallen brothers Rescue Company 3, Dan Foley passed away from 9/11 related cancer on February 22, 2020, leaving behind a wife and five children. He was forty-six. It is not surprising that days before the diagnosis of his illness, on what would be his last day as a firefighter, Dan Foley was credited with saving four young children from a burning apartment.
At one awards ceremony where Thomas Foley was being honored, he responded to a question regarding the source of his drive and accomplishments by smiling and saying, “When anyone asks me, I just tell them ‘I’m Irish.’” Our heritage seems to generate remarkable men and women with astonishing regularity. The story of the Foley Brothers is a story that our Irish heritage has so often produced; the story of the Foleys now joins the story of the Sullivan and Niland brothers. Because of Irish Americans like Thomas and Dan Foley, we too should never hesitate to say “I’m Irish” and never let being Irish be trivialized.
THIS IRISH AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH PROFILE IS PRESENTED BY THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS (AOH.COM)
Neil F. Cosgrove ©