WESTBURY, N.Y. (PIX11) -- Michael O’Connell saw a lot during his time with the New York City Fire Department.
For nearly a decade, the now-retired FDNY Lieutenant took on countless blazes and rose through the ranks.
But it was just four months into his career when he was called into action on what would be the city’s darkest day – 9/11.
“There were some close friends there that I lost,” O’Connell told PIX11 News.
What protected O’Connell during his entire time on the job was his firefighter’s helmet.
It was an invaluable piece of protective gear that was taken from his home, among other things, in a 2012 robbery.
“When it sunk in that my helmet was actually taken I [thought] that, that’s something that’s irreplaceable,” he said. “When 9/11 happened that helmet was on my head every single day I was there and it followed through with me throughout my career. Through good and bad it’s always with you. You know you get patches on your helmet. Your helmet shows what you’ve been through.”
Nearly three years after the helmet was stolen, O’Connell is on a mission to get it back.
He is turning to Facebook to spread the word about the piece of history he wants to preserve for his children.
“Seeing how people use [Facebook] I realized that this is something that I can do now,” he said. “I can take a picture of something and put it out there.”
After sharing details and a 2010 photo of his son Aidan wearing his prized possession, the post quickly spread like wild fire.
“I’ve gotten messages from Ireland and Australia basically people saying whether they are firemen or family or friends of firemen, saying they know what the helmet means to somebody.”
O’Connell, who was forced to retire from the department after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis – an autoimmune disease widespread in 9/11 first responders, is now waiting and hoping that the helmet resurfaces.
“I don’t really need to know who you are. I don’t hold grudges. Just drop it on my porch and its over.”