Plaza Towers Elementary. I never saw it when it was a school, when children entered and exited with joy or with the familiar frustration found in the walls of every school. I never saw proud parents drop off their children or pick up their young students with eager questions about what was learned that day or new friends that had been made. I only knew Plaza Towers as a memorial. Hallowed ground. A place relief workers, volunteers, citizens, and the occasional politician visited in sadness and mourning, to walk its fenced walls and reflect on lost lives and stand in awe-inspiring destruction.
For myself and a few others it became more than that. For us it became an anchor. A place to remember why we were there. Why we had been flown out from all over the nation, given T-shirts and titles like “Planning Section Chief,” “Operations Chief,” or “Team Leader.” We did not take our task or responsibilities lightly, but in our passion and planning, in the midst of sorting a seemingly never ending list of work orders or late night strategy sessions, we sometimes lost sight of the point. Plaza Towers became our true North.
It became our morning visit to help us find our bearings. We’d turn off the radio as we approached the fence line covered in stuffed animals and flags, and silence would replace our usual banter. Hats came off as we exited the car and walked to the site. Then we all would split up to walk the ground on our own. I would always start in a different section but always managed to end on the Southeast corner. There was a chair on that corner – an old bucket style school chair. I thought of the child who once ran to that chair at the sound of the starting bell or lept from it at the end of the day. Were they alive? Would they forever be scarred from this disaster? How would they deal with it? How would I? What was I doing here?
Every morning I found the same answer. We flew out, built a FOB (forward operating base), battled heat, storms, and even tornadoes because these people are important. They are mothers, fathers, students, and grandparents. They were hurt, and we could help. We had to help.
We found hope every morning there. We found our resolve to a commitment to do better than we had the day before. It is very hard to entertain thoughts of quitting or self pity in a place like that. I never knew Plaza Towers Elementary as a school… but I learned a lot there.
Jeremy Frazier, Firefighter
Team Rubicon, Region 10