Someone Like You on Their Side

  • May 15, 2023
Dan Jost in 2001
Photo courtesy Dan Jost

Like so many of us, the morning of September 11 began like any other for Daniel Jost. He was a New York City teacher on Staten Island and school was just starting for the day when the assistant principal came into his classroom. He was told to not show any emotion, but a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  

Knowing that his students had many connections to first responders and others at the World Trade Center, Dan understood the importance of maintaining a calm presence amidst the chaos and confusion of what was unfolding. As he helped get students out of school and reunited with parents and guardians throughout the day, he received a message from his eldest son, Colin, that read, “Is mom okay?”  

Dan’s mind immediately shifted to his wife, Dr. Kerry Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer for the FDNY. 

A 20-year veteran of the department at the time, Dr. Kelly was attending to patients at her private medical practice when she learned about the attacks at the World Trade Center. She ran to her car and immediately left Staten Island to respond to the site. When she emerged from her car in lower Manhattan, she was stunned by the stark contrast between the sunny, summer day she had left and the dark, dust filled sky that now surrounded her. Dr. Kelly began to aid injured firefighters while simultaneously trying to communicate with other emergency personnel. She survived the collapse of both towers and continued to do her job during unimaginable circumstances, setting up triage centers, first in a nearby parking garage, and later at Pace University to help any wounded survivors. 

Dan hadn't immediately realized his wife was at the World Trade Center; she was scheduled to be in her office that day. However, he began to wonder after receiving his son’s message. It wasn’t until the next day that he learned the full extent of her harrowing experience and began joining her on regular trips to Ground Zero. 

Dr. Kelly played an essential role in formulating the department’s response to the attacks and Dan had a key part in helping his students navigate the aftermath of the attacks, which, in many cases, turned their worlds upside down. While difficult, Dan remembers that it was critical to provide his students with support outside of their homes.  

In the years after 9/11, Dr. Kelly continued as Chief Medical Officer for the FDNY. Through her work, she became a leading advocate for 9/11-related physical and mental health effects. Firefighters describe her as someone they could depend on and knew would support them through the highest highs and lowest lows of their careers, and the feeling is mutual – Dr. Kelly often refers to the fire department as a second family. 

Just as Dr. Kelly was there for “her” firefighters, Dan and their sons were an incredibly important support system throughout her career, especially after 9/11. In her nightstand, she keeps a note of encouragement and love her youngest son, Casey, wrote to her in the weeks after 9/11. In it he writes, “The city doesn't know how lucky it is to have someone like you on their side.”  

He also reassured his mom that he would “hold down the fort” at home, and that he, his father, and brother know how “incredibly lucky” they were that she was safe.  

In October 2001, in her first “day off” since the attacks, Dr. Kelly drove up to for a surprise visit with Colin. After greeting her, Colin asked what had inspired her to make the trip.

“I just needed a hug,” she said.  

This September, participants around the world can see Dr. Kelly and Mr. Jost share their stories, in their own words, as a part of the 2023 Anniversary Digital Learning Experience program. Register for this free program today. 

By Meghan Kolbusch, Education Specialist 

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