The city's former fire commissioner, who was in charge of the department on 9/11, is now leading the federal government's relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Thomas Von Essen was sworn in to his new position Monday, and has a daunting task ahead. Our Grace Rauh has the story.
Thomas Von Essen has been on the front lines of tragedy before.
343 firefighters died in the September 11th terror attacks. Von Essen was the city's fire commissioner.
"It's been rough," he said in December of 2001. "We're healing, and it's going to take a long time."
Von Essen was sworn-in Monday as the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) division that includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — islands that were devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who represents parts of the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, just returned from a visit to assess the damage on Puerto Rico. He praised Von Essen's appointment.
"Being a fire chief and a commissioner in New York City just gives you the upper hand — it gives you an edge — to ensure you get the work done in Puerto Rico, because you already have a working relationship with those communities back home," Espaillat said.
Von Essen's new job brings his career full-circle; he started out as a firefighter in the South Bronx in 1970. The neighborhood was home to many Puerto Ricans.
"I am sure for Tommy Von Essen that all those years as a firefighter, as a union leader, and as a fire commissioner, that this is deeply personal as well," Former Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro said. "There is a special bond between the people of New York City and the people of Puerto Rico."
It's a high-pressure job, and one that is sure to generate some heat from Puerto Ricans in need of help and perhaps even from President Trump, who has shown an unusual willingness to publicly attack or question his aides.
In a telephone interview with NY1, Von Essen said he is not a big fan of politicians; he said he just likes fixing stuff.