Helping to evacuate the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was James J. Corrigan's job as a fire safety coordinator for the complex — and his calling as a retired Fire Department captain, his family said. He was killed working alongside his former colleagues.
He belongs with them on the 9/11 memorial, a judge said Monday, overruling objections from memorial organizers and the Fire Department.
Corrigan's family — including two sons who joined the FDNY after their father's death — say he acted as a firefighter that day and deserved recognition for it on the memorial.
"We just felt that this was where he belonged," said his widow, Marie.
Fire Department and memorial officials said they were reviewing the decision. It follows years of debate over how to arrange the names of the dead on the memorial, set to open next year.
Corrigan, 60, was a firefighter for 25 years before retiring in 1994. He moved on to a private-sector job at the trade center.
On Sept. 11, 2001, he led about 20 children to safety from a day care center and then went back into the complex to help firefighters. He was killed when the south tower collapsed as he helped firefighters set up a communications center.
He was awarded a federal 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor and named in a state law reinstating him to "full active employment status" and awarding special benefits to his family. The FDNY lists him on an online memorial of captains killed in the terrorist attacks and included him in a 2002 memorial service at Madison Square Garden.
But when his family asked that the ground zero memorial list him as a member of the FDNY, not the trade center's fire-safety staff, the department balked.
Retired members killed in "situations related to fire activity have never been honored in the same manner as active duty personnel killed in the line of duty," Deputy Fire Commissioner Daniel Shacknai wrote in a letter, according to Queens state Supreme Court Justice Augustus C. Agate's ruling.
The department argued that the state law restoring Corrigan to active status affected only economic benefits for his family, noting that former Gov. George Pataki vetoed a later proposal to provide him certain honors and awards. Memorial officials echoed the Fire Department's arguments.
Agate rejected them.
"While this court hesitates to become embroiled in the internal decisions of the FDNY regarding a matter of such a sensitive nature, there is simply no rational basis for the FDNY's position," he wrote. He ordered Corrigan's name included in the FDNY group among the names to be listed on bronze parapets at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Memorial spokesman Michael Frazier said officials were examining the implications of the judge's decision and remained committed to opening the memorial on the attacks' 10th anniversary.
Years of controversy over how to list the nearly 3,000 names pitted the memorial foundation and Mayor Michael Bloomberg against many Sept. 11 victims' family members and police and fire unions. Several family groups sought to include the victims' ages, first responders' ranks and the tower floors on which trade center victims died.
In 2006, the foundation said names would be arranged in "meaningful adjacencies," grouping victims who died aboard the hijacked jetliners, the Pentagon or the north or south tower. First responders are to be listed with their respective agencies or units.
For Marie Corrigan, that means a chance for her five grandchildren — all born after her husband's death — to see his FDNY service and sacrifice honored.
"I think it's important for them, that they can go to a place and see him where he belongs," she said.