The fire service has deep traditions, many of which we in the service hold close our being. One of those traditions is to never give up on lives.
On that beautiful morning on September 11, 2001 the Fire Department of New York charged into the towers with the “never give up on lives” mentality and absolute tragedy beyond words occurred. The FDNY lost 343 firefighters including the Chief of the department, the department Chaplain, and a Deputy Fire Commissioner. The building collapse that killed these heroes also took out many strong fire service leaders known locally in New York City and nationwide.
I was working that morning as a young impressionable Fire Lieutenant assigned to Engine 1 on the Madison Fire Department. At the time the first plane hit, Engine 1 and Ladder 1 were on a structure fire on E. Johnson Street. The fire was “routine” — a wicker basket, left on the stove, caught fire and did some small damage to the kitchen. There were no injuries.
Following the fire, we cleaned up and went to our Bureau of Maintenance for some equipment repair. We watched on TV as the first tower burned. My thoughts were some pilot and passengers were having a bad day, as well as the firefighters who were called to rescue and extinguish. We left maintenance returning to quarters. By the time we arrived back at Station 1, the second plane had hit.
We watched the next few hours, like all Americans, in absolute horror as the towers fell. I can remember several MFD members yelled with emotion as the towers came down. We all knew it was bad, and we all knew there would be hundreds of firefighters killed. We also knew that several of us would know several killed. The fire service is large; however, we’re a very small group as well.
As the hours ticked by in the fire station that day, the time went by slowly. There was no humor, and everyone was docile. I also remember how low the call volume was that day — not our typical responses. The whole community of Madison seemed to shut down.
You will rarely come across a firefighter who likes or uses the term “hero.” When a person signs up to become a firefighter, they realize the act of heroism has ended. Everything that is performed past that moment is “just what you're are supposed to do.”
I suspect if we asked any of the 343 FDNY members who lost their lives that morning, they would not take the title “hero.” They too would just tell you that they were doing what they were supposed to do: “Never give up lives.” It is just what we all do.
I hope on this anniversary that you take a moment to thank a firefighter or police officer for being there to protect us all. I also would like you to join me in hoping for peace. And lastly, NEVER FORGET! “Never Forget” has been a mantra in the fire service since that beautiful but horrifying morning.
Photo courtesy: BetterAngels911.com