I originally wrote this in 2013 for a post on another website. I’ve done some editing and I am posting it here on my website today for you to read. I want you to understand a little more of who I am and why I am this way. Thank you in advance for your time reading this.
9/11/2013 – This morning while I was eating my breakfast I was watching some footage of the events on 9/11/2001; I just started crying and couldn’t stop. While I was taking my shower getting ready for work I again broke out in heaving sobs. I am holding back the tears even as I write this. It is so very, very emotional for me that I still have a hard time coping with the 9/11 anniversary each year. I rarely talk about it, and I normally call in sick on each anniversary. But not this year for some reason.
On 9/10 I had worked an extra shift at Station #18; I had worked a shift for another of our Captains. We had run a couple calls that night and I was fairly tired. I wanted to shower, and get some sleep for a couple hours.
On the morning of 9/11 I had just gotten home, thrown my station uniform into the dirty clothes hamper, turned on the news, and headed into the shower. I came out of the shower and I saw on the news a building in NYC burning. I sat down on the sofa to get the details. I knew that due to the height, complexity, staffing, and occupancy of the building that it was going to be a bad day for many people. Many people would not make it. I had no idea what was to come.
As I watched and listened I saw the second plane hit the other tower. Immediately and instinctively I knew what was going on. Not because I am some braniac but the spirit bore witness that it was a terrorist attack. I immediately put on a fresh station uniform, and thought I better throw an extra into my station bag. I headed out the door to the station as I would head to a fire call.
When I got to the station about 10 minutes later the entire on-duty crew was there watching the events unfold on TV. The look on their faces was horrifying, mine probably looked the same. We did our customary “bro hug” and watched and listened as our nation was attacked. Over the next 20 minutes the crew that I had worked with the night before showed up, reporting for duty. Within another 20 – 30 minutes my crew showed up. Within an hour we had more than 3 full shifts of firefighters in the station.
Within another couple of minutes we had a call come in from HQ that we were to go into “lockdown” and a deputy was on the way to guard us. They were concerned that our area was the next target due to a high-value Air Force base and command center. We sent a couple FF’s to the store for food, secured the property, and organized response crews. We checked-in our reserve engines and set-up a sleeping schedule to ensure 100% manning of all equipment for the next week. We were doing what we were trained to do while tears were being shed, tempers were boiling, and we were feeling a complete lack of ability to do anything more productive.
Then the first tower collapsed. We were absolutely stunned and horrified. We knew what that meant. To us that scene meant that innumerable firefighters were just killed trying to save the victims of the burning buildings. They were being crushed and burned to death right before our eyes. We were powerless to help them. We cried openly. We swore revenge. We cried some more.
We had already seen the footage of people jumping to escape the flames but this brought it close to home, too close. Somehow we just knew what was next. We started organizing our technical rescue equipment and other gear in preparation to head to NYC. We knew it wouldn’t take us too long if we drove straight through. We knew we would be needed. We packed our gear in silence. We knew what had to be done and we were doing it.
Then we saw the next tower fall; more dead firefighters. I cannot tell you the emotions that were running through us knowing that hundreds of us, our brothers and sisters, must be dead. And worse, trapped, still alive hoping and waiting for us to come save them, to pull them out of their trap, to do our job as their rescuers. But we weren’t there for them, they died trapped, alone. We cried still more tears.
We were organizing the vehicles with the neighboring stations, and those throughout the county when we got the word from headquarters that we were not allowed to go. Someone evidently told them we would go with or without their permission. We got word that any missing vehicle would be reported stolen and any firefighter that went would be let go from the department. More than a few lockers and walls were punched out of frustration, anger, and utter despair that day.
Emergency calls from the public started coming in for us to respond to as if it were any normal day at the fire station. Our station would normally run 4 – 12 calls per day. That day, 9/11, was not any different to our residents and businesses that we served. We still had a job to do. But it was different, different to us. We didn’t understand why people couldn’t understand that.
Three days passed with us holed-up in our station. The deputy left the second day, it was his day-off and they wouldn’t pay overtime, not enough of a threat. I never understood that. Sad.
When the estimates started coming in about how many firefighters died in the collapses we were simply is disbelief, denial, and shock. How could nearly 400 of us die in one incident! How could that many die burning to death, being crushed, being trapped, running out of air and suffocating. All of them dying alone, and no one able to help them. Immediately after the collapses there were too few surviving firefighters left on the piles to save our brothers and sisters. Entire stations of firefighters were wiped out, gone.
We had broken hearts – I can’t explain it much beyond that.
9/11/2001 was the day a big part of my heart was ripped out. I nearly lost my soul during that time. I started to drink heavily then and got divorced shortly afterwards. I was self-destructing. I nearly succeeded.
I still can’t really deal with it very well. I’ve never really talked about it before, not even with other firefighters to any degree. Most of us never talk about it other than acknowledging it, then changing the subject.
One day, one day – I will have the opportunity to know who did it. I will also be able to know “why” and face those responsible. I have no idea what I will say or do. I hope I handle it with the love of Christ. I fear I might not be able to.
One day, one day – I will meet those firefighters that died on 9/11. I will beg them to forgive me and my crew for allowing them to die alone while we helplessly stood by. I will hug them and thank them for the sacrifice they made, and their unselfish commitment to duty to their citizens. They all died trying their best to save others.
Maybe one day I will get back that piece of my heart, my soul might heal, and I might be able to understand. Till then I will shed tears, feel guilty, have bouts of rage, beg God to help me deal with this, and try to get past it. I quit drinking and got my life back in order. I met a wonderful woman who, for reasons unknown, became my wife. I have a different job now, but still a firefighter.
9/11/2015 – It’s two years later and I read my words. The emotions, the raw emotions, came flooding back to me. I am crying as I write this. I still haven’t been able to deal with it. I probably never will. I just pray that nothing like that will ever happen again. But, I suspect it will.
At 10:05 today, 9/11, please just say a silent prayer for those 343 firefighters that died serving that day. And, if you would please, say a prayer that those of us that couldn’t get there to help rescue them might find a little peace.
Thank you, AH.
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