Firefighter never came back
Off-duty friend wanted to help save some lives

By Mike Holtzclaw
Daily Press

September 9, 2002

Barbara Michlik-Bahr was there the night they met - her friend Norma and the handsome New York City firefighter who swept her off her feet. That was almost 20 years ago, but Bahr remembers every detail. She moved from New York to Newport News in 1989 - and married a firefighter of her own - but she always stayed in touch with Chuck and Norma Margiotta.

When she saw the first news reports about the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, she immediately thought of Chuck.

"I knew exactly how he would respond," Bahr says. "Wherever he was when it happened, even if he was off duty, he would get to that site in lower Manhattan. And even if the building was crumbling, he would be running back in because he needed to save more people."

She wouldn't find out until the next day, but she was exactly right.

Margiotta, who worked out of Staten Island's 22nd battalion, was off duty when the planes hit the towers. In fact, he was returning home after working a 24-hour overtime shift at a Brooklyn fire station. When he heard the news, he pulled off the highway, drove to the nearest firehouse and hopped on the truck as it prepared to leave.

He knew his wife was working, so he called his mother to let her know what he was doing. Since he wasn't on a duty roster that day, he wanted to make sure someone knew where he was.

"As the truck approached the World Trade Center, Margiotta told his mother, "Ma, it's bad." He told her he loved her, and he told her that if anything happened, that she should tell Norma and their two kids how much he loved them.

"I got through to Norma on the 12th, and she told me he was missing," Bahr says. "She just said to pray for him and to pray for the family.

"I knew he was strong, and I had hope that he would be found. But I knew the reality. I saw the buildings come down. I knew a lot of people would be dead.

"I knew he wasn't coming home."

In the past year, she's spent a lot of time thinking about him. She thinks back to that night at The Red Parrot - "it was on 57th, between 11th and 12th streets, but it's not there anymore" - when Chuck came up to talk to Norma. How the next day he showed up unexpectedly at the office where Barbara and Norma worked, carrying a dozen roses and asking Norma if she was free for lunch.

From the start, she knew this was the real thing between her friend and the fireman. Chuck was a former Ivy League football player who, in addition to his job as a firefighter, also found time to perform as a movie stuntman, work as a private investigator and fill in as a substitute school teacher.

After Barbara moved to Newport News, she would call her friend back home to chat and Chuck would invariably answer the phone and say, "Hey, Barb, what's happening in the state of Virginia?"

"He had such a deep voice," Bahr says. "I can still hear it to this day."

They never found Chuck's body, so Norma and their two kids took an urn filled with Ground Zero dirt to the viewing on Nov. 5, which Mayor Rudy Giuliani attended. Barbara Bahr was there, too, and she was there the next day for the memorial service at St. Rita's Roman Catholic Parish, where Chuck had been the youth basketball director.

"They had a Mass for him, and so many people got up to talk about him," Bahr says.

"I didn't talk. I couldn't bring myself to find the words to say."

Bahr knows very well the life of a firefighter. Her husband, Thomas Bahr, has been one for 26 years and is now the Fire Chief at Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services. Like Chuck and Norma, the Bahrs have two children, and every day Barbara prays for her husband's safety so that he can stay with her and their sons.

She calls Norma every week now, just checking to see how she and the kids are doing. She knows that Chuck Margiotta is gone, but she also knows that he will always be in the lives of those who loved him.

"Chuck will always be there," she says, "even though he's looking down from heaven."
Copyright � 2002, Daily Press

 Mike Holtzclaw / Newport News-Daily Press