The anniversary of 9/11 is always a difficult time for me as it is for most of us. As a patriotic and passionate American, it was a hard blow, but as a firefighter it seemed to strike even harder.
I remember that morning well. I was getting off shift at the firehouse and was getting ready to head home. As I walked into the day room, the guys were all watching TV instead of sitting around the kitchen table having morning coffee over the regular morning pass-down. Then, I saw the images they were glued to. Shortly after, President Bush announced it was a terrorist attack and we all discussed the complexities and tactics of responding to the attack.
One of my mentors was FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downy, who was the leading expert in USAR and a proponent of terrorism training in the fire service. He and I discussed the World Trade Center previously and the bombing that occurred in 1993, and I remember he told me there was no way the structures could come down. He said it was designed to withstand the impact of a 707. I shared his claim with the guys that day, and tried to be optimistic, telling myself although this was bad and lives were lost, the engineering of the building and experience of the rescue crews would prove to be successful.
I drove home, anxious to see my daughter, Natasha, before she went to school and while listening to the radio, I heard a plane hit the Pentagon, the White house was being evacuated, and all air travel was halted. When I arrived home, my family hadn’t heard yet. As we watched the first tower collapse together, my young daughters watched me cry, not yet understanding the true scope of what was happening. My heart sunk knowing how many people were in the building and how many firefighters would lose their lives trying to rescue others. Then, a plane crash in Pennsylvania. I was thinking “What is going on, who would do this, and how?” I walked Natasha to school (I considered keeping her home) and discussed the day’s events with the neighbors. Many didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. At that moment, everything changed. It had to, but to what extent, I didn’t know. I returned home only to watch the second tower collapse.
I spent the following days watching the images on TV and the death toll rise. I also watched as America rose, united and angry. I saw Old Glory in front yards everywhere and read “Let’s Roll” on apparel wherever I went. Many of my young friends enlisted in the military, and I saw my firefighter/USAR brothers and sisters work the pile day after day, looking for survivors and then finally, remains. I raised money for the Widows and Children’s Fund and attended memorials, doing what I thought could help in whatever small way. I was committed to continue serving in their honor and focusing on Urban Search and Rescue and large scale disaster response.
Of the near 3,000 deaths, 23 were NYPD, 37 Port Authority, and 343 were FDNY firefighters. Many of us know someone who died there or in the coming years after. Personally I will never forget the time Chief Downey spent with an aspiring young firefighter like myself. Thanks, Chief for what you did for others and for me.
After many years of serving as a USAR member and firefighter responding to disasters, I retired, but I learned my desire to serve wasn’t going anywhere, and like many others, I found Team Rubicon. I am as proud as being part of this as anything I have done in my life, and as the organization continues to provide help during disasters both domestically and around the world, I find my purpose. I am honored to stand beside my friends and colleagues who have served this country, many of them post 9-11 veterans, who also come back with the sense to serve, this time as volunteers and to help those in need.
The attacks of 9-11 were meant to divide us, to deliver a crippling blow, but we answered the call then, and we continue to answer the call now. I will never forget the sacrifice my brothers and sisters made that day. Take time to remember today and serve on.
RIP 343, Never Forget