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City man drawn to 9/11 victim's family

September 11, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Last summer, Mike Keifer said his heart skipped a beat when he saw a name similar to his among the list of 9/11 victims named in the book "Last Man Down: A New York City Fire Chief and the Collapse of the World Trade Center."

The book tells the story of a firefighter's survival and escape from the World Trade Center.

"It literally made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I said, 'Oh my God. His name is Michael Vernon Kiefer and mine is Michael Paul Keifer,'" he said.

Little did he realize it was the beginning of a journey that will culminate today at a 9/11 memorial breakfast.

The breakfast is being held at Ladder Co. 132 in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Mike Kiefer, 25, worked before he died.

With the encouragement of his friends and co-workers, Mike Keifer, 53, of Hagerstown, and his wife, Cindy, drove 245 miles to Brooklyn to deliver gifts in memory of the fallen firefighter.

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"It's a small ceremony for the survivors of victims, family and loved ones," said John Caddell, a firefighter who worked with Kiefer at Ladder Co. 132.

For the occasion, Keifer will present a U.S. flag placed in a wooden case along with a framed pictorial montage of the same flag flying at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md., next to the 9/11 plaque containing the names of fallen firefighters.

Keifer said he attended the Healing Field observance over the Fourth of July weekend at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg. Sponsored by the Exchange Clubs of Washington County, the observance was in memory of the victims of 9/11 and a fund-raiser for the club's Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown. The observance included more than 3,000 flags planted on the battlefield. Each flag contained the name of a person who died in the 9/11 attacks.

"I knew Mike's flag would be there and I had to get it," Keifer said.

Keifer purchased the flag for $30 and then photographed it before putting the montage together.

Keifer said their similar names was the first of several striking similarities in his life and the life of Mike Kiefer, who was from Hempstead, N.Y.

Kiefer was one of seven firefighters killed in the line of duty from Ladder Co. 132 and Engine Co. 280 following the 9/11 attacks, Caddell said.

Another coincidence was the fact that Mike Keifer works as a security officer with the U.S. Fire Administration, which also includes the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Mike Kiefer's name is listed on a plaque at the memorial among the firefighters who died in 2001.

Keifer, a former correctional officer, has worked there for three years since retiring from a 20-year career in criminal justice with the Maryland Correctional Training Center. Mike Kiefer attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, where he studied fire science, according to college spokeswoman Doreen Vinas.

The men also have similarities in the names of family members, Keifer said.

"Mike's mother's name is Pat and my father's name is Pat," he said. "His real name is Arthur, but he was born on St. Patrick's Day, so everyone knew him as Pat."

He said all the similarities and coincidences are very personal to him, and he believes he was chosen to take Mike Kiefer's flag home to his parents, where he said it belongs.

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