Remembering Jimmy Young

By Ed Wendell

On March 28, 1994, Engine Company 24/Hook & Ladder 5 raced to the scene of a fire at 62 Watts Street in Manhattan. It is hard to comprehend the courage it takes to run into a burning building. All of our instincts scream at us to run away from danger, yet there are those that not only face it, they stand up to it. They run towards it.

They put their lives at risk to save and rescue people they do not know.

We lost three brave souls as a result of that fire. Captain John J. Drennan, Firefighter Christopher J. Siedenburg, and Firefighter James F. Young.

Jimmy had just turned 31 that January and was a true son of Woodhaven. He was baptized and confirmed at St. Thomas the Apostle, where he also went to school. He used to deliver the Leader/Observer and even wrote for this paper for a while, delivering recaps for the neighborhood softball league.

“I didn’t have one day’s problem with Jimmy, he was close to perfection,” his mother Virginia says. “He got along with everyone. He never smoked, never drank. I can’t tell you how many of my friends wanted him to marry their daughters.”

Jimmy Young was not only a delivery boy for the newspaper you are reading, but also wrote columns for the Leader on the Woodhaven Softball League while waiting to join the FDNY.

Virginia Young says that everything happens for a reason, that life’s tragedies must be part of a larger plan. “We almost lost Jimmy in a car accident, almost 10 years to the day before the fire,” she recalls.

And to illustrate this point, Virginia Young reminds us that this accident happened at Atlantic and 87th, the street that would one day bear her son’s name. “It was touch and go, but we prayed and he survived and he made a vow to live his life to the fullest,” she said. “And he did.”

Jimmy’s sister Maureen says that her brother touched so many lives, that she hears stories about him from people she never knew. “He must have had 500 close personal friends,” she said. “He knew everybody and everybody knew him.”

She reflects on the last time she saw Jimmy at a birthday party for their brother Michael. “He was leaving to take his girlfriend home, and we said ‘See you later’ to each other, and that was it,” she remembers. “The fire was a few days later.”

Shortly after a funeral during which the streets of Woodhaven were flooded with more than 10,000 firefighters, Maureen gave birth to her daughter.

“I really wish that he’d gotten to know my kids; his nieces and nephews,” she said. “I wish they had been able to know him.”

Residents and firefighters gather for a memorial to Firefighter Jimmy Young back in 2010.

“He was so generous and outgoing, he made friends with everybody,” she said. “He touched so many people’s lives and made an impact on them.”

She finds comfort in the words of the Facebook memorial page, especially every year as the anniversary approaches. “Time heals all wounds,” she says. “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.”

And now 30 years have gone by. That’s three entire decades that have passed. And the world is a much different world than the one Jimmy left behind. It’s a much different Woodhaven now than the one that paid such a loving tribute to Jimmy in 1994.

Many of the people that paid tribute to Jimmy Young back then have gone on to their reward themselves. And many of Jimmy’s young contemporaries from 1994 have grown old and gone grey. It seems hard to believe, but Jimmy himself would have turned 61 this year.

Back in March, 2010 we held a memorial for Jimmy here in Woodhaven and the late Maria Thomson read from the statement she made at City Hall the day that the bill renaming 87th Street in Jimmy Young’s honor was signed.

The family of Jimmy Young on the day that 87th Street was officially renamed Jimmy Young Place.

“Jimmy, you were taken too soon, and we miss you,” Thomson said. “But with your name proudly displayed on Jimmy Young Place, the legacy of your winning life and your heroic death will always live on.”

And so, if you weren’t familiar with the man behind the name on the sign that has hung over 87th Street these past 30 years, you now know a little more about him and the sacrifice he made.

And we hope you will join us in honoring his memory by remembering Jimmy Young not just for how he died, but for how he lived.

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