Expo Opening Honors Military, Remembers 9/11

The opening ceremonies of Firehouse Expo 2011 were dedicated to the lives lost ten years ago on 9/11, but also paid tribute to military personnel who made equal sacrifices in the years following the terrorist attacks.

Coverage of Firehouse Expo 2011

Firehouse Magazine Editor and Expo Program Director Harvey Eisner motioned to a sketch depicting a firefighter and a solider that was projected onto a screen behind him during his opening remarks.

"The firefighter is handing the flag to a soldier and that is who we would like to honor today: Our armed forces."

Marine Corporal Josh Bleil, who was seriously wounded by an IED while conducting combat patrols during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006, told attendees that he had a normal 9 to 5 job out of college at the age of 22 when the news of 9/11 changed everything for him.

At the age of 27 in 2004 he joined the military in honor of the sacrifice made by the firefighters who responded that day.

The explosion tore through Bleil's Humvee, killing two of his fellow marines and injuring Bleil and another marine. He awoke five days later in a hospital in Germany.

He lost both of his legs and spent time recovering physically and mentally from his injuries in Bethesda, Md. and said that frequent visits from local firefighters kept his spirits high.

The Indiana native was later given the opportunity to share his experience with others around the country as a community spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts.

Also in attendance was Army National Guardsman Sgt. Christopher Duke who was stationed in Afghanistan and was saved by stray dogs he and his fellow guardsmen took in.

On Feb. 11, 2010, the dogs began barking and rushed to attack a suicide bomber who was strapped with 25 lbs. of C4 from trying to enter the barracks. They bit the bomber's legs and kept him from entering, but not until he detonated the explosives.

Five of the soldiers, including Duke, sustained injuries, but none of them died thanks to the actions of the dogs.

Remembering 9/11

FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff said the outpouring of support leading up to the 10th anniversary of the tragedy has been overwhelming.

"The inquiries that we've had across the country and internationally have been truly remarkable," he said.

Following his remarks a video was shown that was produced by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation that will be used to train the department's members.

After the video, former New York Daily News photographer David Handschuh shared his story and photos he and he colleagues took during and after the attacks.

On the morning of 9/11, he rushed to the World Trade Center and photographed the crash of the second plane before he was seriously injured by falling debris and was pulled out by firefighters.

"It's been almost 10 years, since that day and it feels like 10 minutes," he said. "I'm alive today because of the actions of the firefighters of Engine 217."

Afterward, FDNY Deputy Chief Jay Jonas, who was Captain of Ladder 6 during 9/11, talked about the response and how his crew was able to survive the ordeal.

"Prior to 9/11 I worked in some of the busiest departments in the city and thought I had seen it all," he said. "Nothing compared to this."

Once they were out of the collapsed North tower, he was overcome with emotion.

"I got outside and thought, 'I can't believe we survived this.' "

Rupert McCall, an Australian author and poet who wrote a poem entitled "A Fire Fighter's Dream" said it was inspired by Jonas' story before reading it to attendees.

Former FDNY Firefighter Tim Brown presented a trailer for the upcoming movie "Rebirth" that tracks the lives of survivors and family members of victims in the years following the attacks.

Brown, who was trapped in the hotel between the Twin Towers, is featured in the documentary.