Kalispell retired firefighter featured in Super Bowl ad

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  • A New York City newspaper photographer captured Shea hanging 12 stories above the ground at Times Square as he rescued a man from a burning building in 1991 when he was a member of the elite Rescue 1 Co. The image was featured in a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Shea)

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    Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter LakeRetired New York City Firefighter Kevin Shea, who lives near Kalispell, holds a photograph of group of fellow firefighters taken shortly after a 1991 rescue. Of the seven men, three died while responding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and two were badly injured in other fires. Shea, shown third from the left in the back row, survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and spent a month helping with the recovery effort after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

  • A New York City newspaper photographer captured Shea hanging 12 stories above the ground at Times Square as he rescued a man from a burning building in 1991 when he was a member of the elite Rescue 1 Co. The image was featured in a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Shea)

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    Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter LakeRetired New York City Firefighter Kevin Shea, who lives near Kalispell, holds a photograph of group of fellow firefighters taken shortly after a 1991 rescue. Of the seven men, three died while responding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and two were badly injured in other fires. Shea, shown third from the left in the back row, survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and spent a month helping with the recovery effort after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

An emotional Super Bowl commercial that thanked first responders for their service featured the stunning rescue photo of a former New York firefighter who lives near Kalispell.

Sponsored by Verizon, the ad includes snippets of heartfelt thank-you calls to first responders from people who were rescued. During the 60-second commercial, one of the photographs shows Kevin Shea of Kalispell hanging 12 stories above the ground at Times Square as he rescued a man from a burning building in 1991, when he was a member of the elite Rescue Company No. 1. The snapshot, taken by a New York City newspaper photographer, is a poignant image that epitomizes the danger first responders face on a daily basis.

At the end of the commercial, Verizon closes with this thought: “They answer the call. Our job is to make sure they can get it.”

The Daily Inter Lake featured Shea and his life’s work in 2012 on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Shea and fellow firefighters responded to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, where he fell four and a half stories through a crater left by the terrorists’ explosives. His leg was impaled on rebar from the concrete rubble and he sustained massive injuries, but eventually recovered.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings, Shea once again found himself on the front line. As the first plane hit the North Tower of the Trade Center, Shea’s first impulse was to drive into the city to see how he could help. Retired by that time, the Long Island native spent several weeks poring through the rubble in the dire aftermath.

Like many first responders, Shea insisted that being put in harm’s way was just part of the job.

“I didn’t do anything special,” he told the Inter Lake in 2012. “There were hundreds who went back” to help after the 9/11 bombings.

Four or five days into the 9/11 search effort, Shea realized he had searched the exact same area where he’d been so severely injured in the 1993 bombing. He recalled the devastating loss of first responders in the 9/11 attacks. Eleven members of the elite Rescue Company No. 1 perished.

“I lost so many friends. It changed me,” he confided in the 2012 interview. “It leaves you scarred, harder than you were before.”

Being part of Rescue 1 wasn’t for slackers, he said. Firefighters had to be in top shape to scale several flights of fire-escape stairs in seconds and handle all kinds of rescue situations.

Shea, of Irish ancestry, descends from five generations of New York police officers. His years in the Flathead Valley have provided a sharp contrast from the urban lifestyle of New York. In recent years he has planned bow-hunting trips for disabled veterans and he occasionally teaches technical rescue classes out of state.

Shea couldn’t be reached for comment on the famous photograph of his daring rescue that surfaced in the Verizon ad, but the mild-mannered retired firefighter likely would shrug and reiterate, it’s all in a day’s work as a first responder.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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