September 10, 2012

11 Years On

[Ed Note: this was written on September 10, 2002 and then updated in 2006 and again today.]

Absent Companions


In less than twenty-four hours it will once again be September 11th.  I’m sure many of us are still thinking of an appropriate manner in which we would like to commemorate the murder of so many at the hands of terrorists, while other’s I’m sure have already made a decision on how they will do this duty.  For me the day will be spent doing my job, one that needs to be done, but that does not mean I won’t be commemorating the loss we as a nation experienced that day.

At 8:46 a.m. EDT, I will remember the news as it spread up and down the halls that something was happening again at the World Trade Center.  I can still hear the excited tone in my co-workers voice in the office next door as he saw the news on his television.  I’ll remember walking down the hall wondering what the commotion was all about but knowing in my mind that it must be something big.  I’ll never forget the images that I saw for the first time on the screens in the conference room as the top half of WTC Tower 1 burned.  I’ll remember how we all sat there transfixed to the screen wondering how the Fire Department was going to stretch enough hose to get to that fire and wondering if the standpipes were still functional.  I’ll remember how I felt I had to contact my partner who was on the West Coast teaching a class to let him know that this was happening I immediately ran back to my office and called him. He had to know, I had to tell him.  So with it not even 6:00 a.m. where he was, I called waking them all up.  On their end it was the same emotions, shocked disbelief and a question as to how the Fire Department would be able to fight a fire like that so high up in a building. But then our world changed, despite that stories reporting that a plane had hit the tower, we didn’t really know until that moment at 9:03 a.m. EDT when a second plane hit WTC Tower 2 that our mission and goals would change so drastically.

For the next several minutes all we could do was sit there in disbelief.  If there had been any doubt about this being an isolated accident, at that moment our thoughts were clear that this was no accident.  Someone had intentionally attacked us!  We knew we had a job to do and we immediately began to put into place our emergency plans and set up an Incident management team.  We cancelled classes and pulled the students into the auditorium so we could brief them as to what was happening, and we went about the business of ensure that America would continue to operate as a democracy.

But still our thoughts were about the job of firefighting.  We speculated that the buildings could still be saved…they can stretch hoses to a point in each building and stop the fire from taking it all, there had to be enough water in all of NYC to handle those fires.  We also began to worry about the possibility of partial collapses.  Knowing how the FD operates we knew that the command posts would be in the lobbies of the building and that the collapse zone for these buildings would be an area larger than any collapse zone encounter to date by any department.  And then at 10:05 a.m. our worst fears came true, when the South tower fell.  All went silent in the room and then we began to look around the room, searching for our co-worker that retired from the FDNY and knowing that his son was a police officer in NYC and we just looked at him all of us wondering if his son was there.  Had he responded like everyone else to the scene, had we lost one of our family?  I’ll never forget wondering how do you ask that question, and I’ll never forget the look in his eyes said all that you needed to know.  He didn’t know if his son had answered his last call, but he was preparing to accept the worse. 

I’ll remember at 10:28 a.m. how our world was shattered once again as Tower 1 fell, and how the incident became more personal for me.  As the images of the destruction began to appear on the screen I saw apparatus on which men I had just worked with a couple of weeks earlier were assigned.  Apparatus, mangled and crushed by the weight of several thousand tons of debris falling on it, and I knew that they had to have perished.  Were these men good friends of mine?  No, they were simply fellow firefighters that I had had the pleasure of training with a few weeks earlier.  Of sitting out in the evening after class and shooting the breeze, talking and sharing stories, and learning from each other.  For me September 11th will always be about these men and how our President stepped up to the plate and took charge. 

In May of 2006, I visited Ground Zero for the first time: I’ll never be the same.  Walk through Saint Paul’s Chapel and tell me that this was not an act of aggression unprovoked by an enemy that had planned the attack for years before carrying it out.  Walk through the chapel and then tell me you can not remember what you were doing on that fateful morning.  September 11, 2001 was a day that changed us all and for some it took all they had. 

I stopped in front of the new 10 House, the replacement fire station built across the street to replace the one destroyed when the buildings fell, the crowds still heavy, everyone trying to get a glimpse at something that is no longer there.  I stood on Vesey Street and remembered those fellow firefighters that I had met only weeks prior and I could “see” them there still, for they will always be in my memory. 

This year Freedom Plaza opened at the World Trade Center complex, from all accounts it seems to have captured the essence of the missing and the feelings that came out that day as a nation recovered from the stunned silence. 2996 names are engraved on the bronze curbing that surrounds the footprints of the previous towers that are now pools of water, 2996 souls lost to an act of aggression.  2996 friends, familymembers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, grandfathers and grandmothers who will forever be absent. 

In the military we have a toast for “Absent Companions” it’s a simple toast to advise us to remember those of our brotherhood that are either not with us or no longer with us.  So I admonish you all to raise a glass and toast our “Absent Companions” those 2996 lives lost on September 11, 2001

Brothers this one is for you.

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