He Was A "Teddy Bear,' But Fearless
September 30, 2001
When Durrell Valentine Pearsall joined his friends in the Emerald Society Pipe Band on trips to Ireland to play, old men would stare in amazement at the olive-skinned, 300-pound drummer, saying, "God bless your size!"
But the Irish half of the Rescue Co. 4 firefighter knew more songs from that land than anyone else in the New York City Fire Department, it seemed, and was hammy enough to sing them all.
"We'd be somewhere blowing off some steam and he'd jump up and start an Irish song, and we'd all join in on them," recalled his bandmate and fellow Rescue 4 firefighter, Liam Flaherty. "He was a job icon. He was larger than life."
But if "Bronko" Pearsall's loss has been so keenly felt by the band that a special memorial is likely, it is stirring reaction in many other quarters. Captain of the fire department football team, a Nassau fire safety educator and a decorated Hempstead firefighter, Pearsall is remembered as a fearless Gentle Ben, a "teddy bear," a "puppy dog," who always made time for kids.
The Hempstead Fire Department is raising money to endow an athletic scholarship at Long Island University C.W. Post campus in memory of its former offensive tackle, who played there from 1988 to 1991.
Bronko, 38, grew up in Hempstead playing on fire trucks as the son of Durrell Pearsall Sr., a 57-year member of that fire department. His mother, Carmela, nicknamed him after 1930s football great Bronko Nagurski, because he was so big she thought his destiny lay in sports.
Pearsall graduated from C.W. Post in 1992, thinking he'd be a gym teacher. He coached junior varsity sports in New Hyde Park for a year before joining the city fire department.
But, all along, he'd been a Hempstead volunteer firefighter. He received two medals of valor, for pulling a woman out of a burning apartment window and crawling under a car to free a trapped child, said Deputy Chief George Sandas.
He had a way about him that made people want to be near him, many friends recalled. So when Pearsall got a Screen Actors Guild card and a spot opposite legendary Jets coach Bill Parcells in a Tostitos commercial two years ago, friends from the band and the team trekked to Brother Jimmy's Bar on Third Avenue in Manhattan to watch it. There lay Bronko on a football training table with the coach, munching away on Tostitos. There sat Bronko on the bench, rocking to the Rascals song "Groovin'." "We all jumped up and cheered," Flaherty said.
Pearsall, an only child with no survivors, treated the department as his family. After fellow Rescue 4 firefighters Brian Fahey and Harry Ford were killed in the Astoria fire in June, he made regular visits to their homes to play stand-in dad with their sons. --Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)
The Sunday Mail-Scotland paper-Contributed by Jim Pearsall
They were the New York Fire Department's Band of Brothers.
Forty-nine friends who organized pipe band practice night around their shifts, fine tuning renditions of Scotland the Brave and The Braemar Gathering.
Together they went to Glasgow for the World Pipe Band Championships and together they risked their lives rushing to the aid of people fleeing the doomed World Trade Center
Durrell 'Bronco' Pearsall is the band's snare drummer.
Durrell was at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow four years ago. The band stayed with firefighters from the Strathclyde brigade.
New Yor Fire Department Pipes and Drums -which includes 18 retired officers-proudly boast of their links with Scotland and Ireland.