Just like it was 11 years ago today, I woke up on a beautiful Tuesday morning and readied myself for work.
Just a few weeks before, we finished the New York State Terrorism Awareness class at my Firehouse in Glenwood Landing, a small suburb eight miles away from the New York City border. Terrorism? It wasn't anything we needed to be worried about, except for the massive power plant and millions of gallons of gas and diesel fuel stored in one end of our community. Still, many of us thought that terrorism wasn’t going to impact us.
We would never get called into New York City, unless they had a bunch of multiple alarm fires.
The week before Sept. 11, I was at a meeting at the National Fire Academy. We were looking at making changes in the fire service. I don't remember too many details of that meeting anymore, except sitting with Harry Carter and talking fire all night long. When I left Maryland for home, I passed Lower Manhattan as the sun set behind the World Trade Center. I marked "Liberty State Park" on my notepad as a great place to photograph the Twin Towers and continued to my next stop.
The next morning I was headed from the Bronx to my home on Long Island when I saw NYPD Emergency Services Truck 10 at a motor vehicle collision on the Van Wyck Expressway. I saw Tommy Langone, who was an assistant chief in the neighboring Roslyn Rescue Fire Company, assisting the driver of the crashed car. As any good New York rubbernecker would do, I slowed down, yelled out to Tommy and he gave a wave back.
That night, I was at our fire station for extrication drill training. We were participating in one of New York State extrication competitions the following weekend and we spent all night honing our rescue skills.
As I was driving to work on Sept. 11, I received a phone call about a plane crashing into a building in New York City. I tuned into the local news radio station and they were just breaking the story about the Trade Center being struck, so I called Firehouse Editor Jeff Barrington at the office and he told me to head to the city for some photos. It wasn't too big of a deal, just a small plane that hit the building.
As the phone continued to ring and the radio reports got more serious, we all knew it was going to be a game changer by the end of the day.
I arrived in Lower Manhattan just as the South Tower collapsed, although I had no idea it even happened until hours later. After the North Tower collapsed, I made my way closer to the area where the Twin Towers once stood. They were no more, or at least that’s what it seemed like through the smoke and debris flying around.
I walked around and photographed everything that I saw. One rig, with its windshield blown and covered with debris, looked very familiar. It was Engine 214, from Brooklyn’s “The Nut House.” I had been visiting that station and riding for eight years. I made my way over to the rig and found the chauffer. He had a few cuts and bruises, but was trying to hook up to a hydrant to get water flowing as fires burned all around.
We found a phone and he called back to the Hancock Street Firehouse to get the rundown of who was working, as it was just about the time for tour change when the bells rang in the station. As we left the building, the police spotted me and escorted me out of the area. I hung around the staging area for a while, gathering photos of firefighters coming in and then decided it was best to return back to Long Island and my firehouse. This certainly seemed like something that would require assistance in many shapes and forms.
As hours turned into days and days turned into weeks, I realized that things were changing. We all took a different perspective on life. It was more precious and I appreciated my friends and family even more. We spent many nights at the firehouse in Glenwood waiting for a call, but all quietly enjoying each other's company as the shock was still there.