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Coincidences bring artist NYPD firefighter together

February 20, 2002

Coincidences bring artist NYPD firefighter together



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


A desire by a Greencastle, Pa., artist to paint for posterity a photograph of a New York City firefighter holding a flag on Sept. 11 put into motion a series of events that led the two to meet at the home of a Waynesboro physician Tuesday night.

Susan Shaffer, 42, of 9958 Rabbit Road, first saw the photo of the firefighter on the CNN Web site Sept. 13, two days after two hijacked jetliners were flown into the World Trade Center towers in a day of terrorism that left more than 3,000 dead in New York, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field.

"Seeing that photograph moved me in such a way that it's hard to put in words," said Shaffer, a clinical systems analyst at Frederick Memorial Health Center. "I wanted to paint it so badly."

Her frustrations over a fruitless search for a copy of the photograph ended when a friend saw it on the front cover of Star magazine.

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She started the painting in oils and finished it in about a week. It shows the firefighter holding the American flag. Shaffer painted the doomed towers in the upper right-hand corner. One was already ablaze and the second plane was just about to hit the other one, a scene that is emblazoned on the American psyche.

"I wanted it to be more than just a painting of a fireman. Thirty years from now when someone sees it I want them to know it was about Sept. 11 and the attack on the towers," she said. "I also wanted the towers not to be the first thing they see in the painting."

The 16-by-20-inch canvas is set in a 32-by 40-inch frame.

The second element of the story came about when Larry Rogina, a Waynesboro physician, was handed a copy of the same Star magazine. He recognized the firefighter in the picture as his friend, Rick Doran, a New York firefighter. Rogina and his wife, Lori, and Doran and his wife, Gail, met on a beach in Jamaica while both couples were on vacation in 1991.

They have kept in close touch ever since.

A mutual friend of Rogina and Shaffer told the physician that Shaffer had done a painting of the photograph.

Rogina thought of his friend on Sept. 11. "I called for hours before I got to talk to with Rick's son, Matthew, 15, later that day," he said.

The two families are having a reunion at Rogina's home this week. Doran got his first look at Shaffer's painting Tuesday night when she brought it to Rogina's home.

Doran was speechless when he saw it. "Oh, my," his wife said. "It's beautiful."

Shaffer said she plans to give the painting to Doran. She also wants to make prints of it to sell, with some of the proceeds going to the firefighters' relief fund in New York if there are no copyright problems with the AP photograph.

The photo of Doran was taken on the day of the attack by an Associated Press photographer.

Rogina has started a collection of publications in which the photo has appeared, including the Star, National Enquirer, a calendar published in honor of Sept. 11 events, a commemorative Life Magazine edition of the attacks and the New York Post.

Doran, 51, was home in Stony Brook on Long Island on the morning of Sept. 11 when a fellow firefighter called and told him to turn on his television, that a plane had hit a World Trade Center tower.

Doran got into his car, picked up another firefighter and the two headed for New York. When they got to their station they and other firefighters commandeered a city bus and rode toward the towers.

They got as close as they could then started to rescue people trapped in the U.S. Customs building near the towers. Some died in spite of their efforts, Doran said.

Doran, a 20-year veteran with the department, was stationed at Ground Zero in rescue operation from Sept. 11 through Sept. 16. "All we could find were bodies," he said. "In some places the debris was 60 feet high."

Doran said his battalion lost 96 firefighters the day of the attacks, including four of six officers in his own office.

Gail Doran said she knew her husband was safe that morning because he was not scheduled to work. Their son, Mark, 18, a student at Salisbury University in Maryland, however, had some anxious hours until he reached his mother to learn his father was safe.

In November, some top-level English companies invited a contingent of New York firefighters and their wives to visit England to honor their efforts during and after the terrorist attacks.

Rick and Gail Doran were in the group that went.

"I remember driving around in the double-decker buses," she said. Their guide pointed out that there were no trash cans along the side of the road because the Irish Republican Army hid bombs in them. The guide also noted that a popular restaurant atop a famous London building was no longer in use because it had been a target of an IRA bombing.

"If I had gone there in August I would have said something like thank goodness we live in America where we don't have to live with terrorism. All that changed for us on Sept. 11," she said.

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