For many of us, the events of September 11th, 2001 will forever be etched into our minds and hearts. The magnitude and severity of the sacrifices made that day by the FDNY as well as the NYPD, EMS and PANY/NJ uphold the tradition, beliefs, values and ideals that the Fire, Rescue, EMS and Law Enforcement professions embrace. The tragic loss of lives, the promise of the future; the unfulfilled opportunities and contributions that were yet to be recognized or made by many of those killed and the subsequent loss of completing life’s journey with their families, loved ones and comrades further magnifies the senselessness and grief many of us share to this day. FDNY Assistant Chief Gerard Barbara , the Citywide Tour Commander on the morning of September 11th (Remembrance HERE) whose image was profoundly captured standing in the street within the shadow of the twin towers moments before the first collapse provides a poignant reminder of our sworn duty, obligation and responsibilities as firefighters.
As I was preparing to capture some thoughts that reflected upon this, the ninth anniversary of 911, I came across an article that I had written within the subsequent days of September 11th that was published shortly thereafter.
As I began rereading the narrative, the vivid emotions and sentiments that were present in such a raw manner on that day and in the days and weeks that followed came rushing back to the surface. I reflected on the thought that sharing this narrative once again would echo upon some of what we all shared that day and give rise to where we’ve been in our own personal journeys. This is why we must remember, this is why we must never forget.
The First Steps of Our Journey (originally written and published September, 2001)
Tuesday September 11th began unremarkably like many others. I began my instructional delivery of a course of instruction on Incident Command Management for Structural Collapse Rescue Operations as part of the National Fire Academy’s field delivery programs in Ft. Myers, Florida. The class was comprised of Special Operations Battalion Chiefs, Command and Line Officers from throughout the region. As we began our discussion on the needs for urban search and rescue preparedness and its relationship to strategic incident command management and tactical company level capabilities, the Ft. Myers Chief of Department came into the classroom and directed us immediately to the station day room. The time was 08:55 hours, and so began our journey.
The class immediately became transfixed upon the televised images streaming before us. The live coverage of the evolving sequence of events, the fire and emergency services responses and the devastation inflicted both in New York City and later in Washington, D.C., and the realization that this was a terrorist attack. For the next three hours we watched in disbelief the unfolding events in New York City at the World Trade Center, each of us fully realizing the magnitude and severity of the incident and the impact inflicted upon the fire, rescue, ems and law enforcement personnel operating at the scene.
The transmission of Manhattan Box 55-8087 to the World Trade Center Towers brought New York City’s Bravest and Finest. We witnessed the evolving events of the initial high-rise fires in WTC Tower #1, the vivid images of the second aircraft impacting WTC Tower #2 and shortly thereafter, the horrendous collapse of both towers.
We watched in silence, fully cognizant of the potential toll the resulting collapses could have on the operating personnel and civilians alike. Following numerous telephone calls home and to my fire station, with the impending arrangements and planning being undertaken for our fire department’s possible deployment to NYC, I began a twenty-two hour trek back home. The journey back was consumed with the constant reports filtering through the radio speakers of the ever increasing descriptions of the magnitude and levels of destruction at what has become known as Ground Zero.
The turnpikes I traveled were filled with the passing images of the initial public outpouring of emotions to the day’s tragic events. Lone individuals on overpasses and bridges, waving our nation’s flag. The flags drawn to half staff throughout the communities I passed through and the electronic message boards along the highway, with words of condolence and encouragement in this time of national grief. Still in my Fire Academy shirt with the embroidered words of the NFA and Structural Collapse, I was recognized as a firefighter and approached by numerous people along my route back who questioned the events of the day, who were seeking some sense of understanding for what was becoming recognized as a significant loss of life to unaccounted for fire, rescue, law enforcement and civilians.
There were the unsolicited words of thanks expressed by people at gas pumps and rest areas up the entire east coast, who acknowledged my fire service affiliation and connected to what they may have seen or heard in terms of the of the missing F.D.N.Y. firefighters and N.Y.P.D. law enforcement officers. This level of acknowledgement, seemed so strange, when any other time, we seem to blend into the back ground of everyday life. All for having a fire service emblem on.
During my travel back to Syracuse, New York I listened to every report, every update and the ever increasing numbers of potential missing on the radio. Well after midnight I ran into a colleague of mine at a gas station, an Assistant Fire Chief from the Metro Dade Fire & Rescue Department, Florida who, along with four other urban search and rescue specialists were making their way to Washington, D.C. as part of the deployed FEMA USAR Task Force Team from South Florida. We shared in our grief over the immediate notification at a mayoral press briefing that our close friend FDNY Battalion Chief Ray Downey was identified as one of three chief FDNY Officers who died during the tower collapses.
We also shared in our grief in the initial reports of the over forty FDNY fire, rescue and support companies unaccounted for as a result of the fire suppression, rescue and collapse efforts. The continuing ride gave way to the thoughts and concerns of many of my friends within the FDNY. Were they on shift, are they accounted for, are they safe? I thought about everything that we have tried to prepare for, the years of developing our national urban search and rescue task force system, collapse-rescue training, terrorism preparedness and the images of the WTC events of the morning. I thought deeply of my twenty-six years of fire service involvement, my brother & sister firefighters, and again- the fate of my FDNY brothers and sisters in New York City.
Subsequently in the days that followed, I became glued to the live televised images from Ground Zero and ever increasing reports of the search and rescue efforts deployed at the incident scene. As I watched alone into the early morning hours the images pouring across my television screen or at the fire station with my brother and sister firefighters, I began to contemplate the journey that lay ahead for our nation’s fire and emergency services. We will be forever changed by the events of 9-11. The most recent accounts have identified over three hundred thirty seven confirmed or unaccounted for firefighters, twenty-three law enforcement officers and over five thousand four hundred missing civilians. Rescue efforts remain the focus, with the realization that the probability of live rescues diminishes with each passing hour as the first week of Herculean efforts draws to a close.
The fabric that binds us within the fire and emergency services, the true bonds of brother and sisterhood in this proudest of professions can not be more poignantly depicted than the image of the three brother FDNY firefighters raising the American flag amidst the mountains of rubble and debris where once stood the World Trade Center. Each and every one of us understands the undertakings during the initial stages of operations at the WTC. We, the fire and emergency service providers protect the heart and soul of our respective communities. We understand the risks and challenges affecting our commitment to protect life and property and to meet those challenges armed with our training, preparedness and tools of our trade. We are the first ones in and the last ones out. The challenges ahead will be immense as the rescue efforts at Ground Zero evolve into the recovery mode of operation, and the continued efforts to bring home- back to quarters these missing firefighters.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will be witness to ever changing events in this continuing journey. We will share in the pain, grief and emotions that have become so deeply rooted inside of all of us in the course of these events in NYC and in our nations’ capital. For those who provided direct or support service to the events at the WTC, and those who may yet be called upon to render aide in the weeks and months ahead, each of us understands the calling and we also understand the pain. For each and everyone firefighter, rescue and ems provider would, if they could, would be side by side with those working at Ground Zero.
We must remain vigilant to our own community’s risk potential for future events and incidents and must strive to reduce the gap between our capabilities and those identified deficiencies. We must plan and train for the worst, for it’s not a matter of IF , it’s just a matter of WHEN. Our nation’s fire and emergency services have begun a journey, one that no one could have imagined, yet one that each will meet head- on. Remain safe, stay strong, and meet the challenges of your next alarm, with faith and the foundation of principles that have made our fire services what they are. We are all part of a brotherhood, we share a common belief and mission-we know our duty, we are firefighters, and will answere the call. (September, 2001)
Honor and Remembrance
Remember and honor the sacrifices of 09.11.01 and the continuing sacrifices that are being made today by those fire, law enforcement and emergency services workers, support personnel and civilians that worked the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in the weeks and months afterwards who are dying or are afflicted by the lingering effects of exposure at the site. Remember the surviving families of those lost, remember the firefighters; who they were and remember who we are, and what we do each and every day in the streets of America. May We Never Forget. Honor and Remembrance 343…
Also on The Company Officer…
- An Officer who Made a Difference: Remembrance – September 10, 2012
- The Ides of March: Learning and Remembrance – March 7, 2012
- Near-Miss, with RIT Deployment at Structural Collapse: Canada – November 5, 2012
- “You don’t need a last name for Herbie. Everybody knew Herbie”; Chicago Fire Capt. Herbie Johnson – November 4, 2012