Firefighter Ken Haskell lost two brothers on 9/11. At the funeral for one of them, Rep. Peter King took note of his public speaking ability and composure and eventually invited him to be one of his advisers.
This week, as the nation prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Roll Call looks back at how Capitol Hill responded to the attacks and how that day's events changed — and didn't change — life in Washington.
For most of his life, this was the suit Ken Haskell donned for work: a pair of tall boots and heavy flame-proof pants and jacket.
It's what he's worn for the hundreds of runs he's made as a member of the New York City Fire Department to car accidents, house fires and water-main leaks. It's what he wore when he responded to a call to lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.
But when the longtime firefighter took on a new job — as an adviser to House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King — he had to wear something more appropriate for Congressional hearings and public ceremonies.
"I came home and told my wife, 'I better buy a few suits,'" Haskell said. "I think, before, I maybe had one or two that I wore to weddings and funerals."
Haskell, who advises the New York Republican on first-responder and homeland security issues, comes to his Congressional job from a path unlike that of the typical aide. The 42-year-old has been a firefighter for 18 years and was a New York City police officer for three years before that.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks ended so many things — buildings down, lives lost, a nation's sense of security vanished — and altered many more. Ken Haskell now sometimes wears a tie.
His job is to animate the abstract, to make real to Congress what for many exists only on paper or in prepared testimony — much like the attacks themselves brought to life a threat once unimaginable.
King recalls meeting Haskell at the funeral of the fireman's brother, Timmy, who died in the North Tower on 9/11. Another of Haskell's brothers, Tommy, died in the South Tower, although his body was never recovered.
"When he did the eulogy at Tim's funeral, he'd never done public speaking before," King said. "He was eloquent, but eloquent in a way that was understated. He was direct, and he had this ability to communicate but not make it about himself."
Impressed, King eventually asked Haskell to join his office as an adviser. Haskell, though, was not immediately convinced the job was for him. After all, he was a firefighter and the son of a firefighter. His world was fires and family and the carpentry business he runs on the side.
He felt comfortable in heavy boots, not wingtips. Politics was something he read about in the papers and talked about with his buddies at the station.