Turning on the television set in our family room the morning of September 11, 2001, I heard the eerie sound of multiple PASS devices emitting ear-piercing cries indicating firefighters were in trouble. The PASS stands for personal alert safety system and is integrated into a firefighter’s SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). It may be manually activated or will automatically trigger after thirty seconds of inactivity if a firefighter is lost, disoriented, incapacitated, or trapped. As the horror unfolded before my eyes, I proclaimed to my wife and daughters, “They’re dead.”
On 9-11, I was a lieutenant serving with Loveland Fire Rescue in Colorado, assigned to Fire Station 5. My shift was coming off duty that morning and it was my first shift back to work after a vacation to visit family and friends in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We had flown into LaGuardia Airport in New York City and thankfully our flight home departed on September 9th. We had taken a ground shuttle from the airport in Newark, New Jersey to LaGuardia. As we approached the Holland Tunnel, we gazed at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Little did any of us know the evil treachery that would befall our nation two days later.
That fateful Tuesday morning, we were changing shifts at 7:30 a.m. and as I came down the stairs of Fire Station 5 at approximately 7:00 a.m., Vance yelled out, “Rick, come here you gotta see this!” I could not believe my eyes. American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked by Islamist terrorists and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 6:46 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (MDT). I had been upstairs shaving and completely oblivious to what was happening 1,800 miles to the east of Loveland. As I watched the television another plane (United Airlines Flight 175) crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 7:03 a.m. MDT. All of us in the room knew that this was not a plane crash, but a terrorist attack. We quickly finished shift change and I jumped in my pickup truck for the drive home. Tuning into a radio station the announcer reported another plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. at 7:37 a.m. MDT. This was American Airlines Flight 77 and if there had been any shred of doubt before about a terrorist attack on our nation, it was gone. America was being attacked.
Arriving at home I asked my wife if she knew what was happening and I turned on the television set. A few minutes later at 7:59 a.m. MDT the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. This was quickly followed by news reports of another plane crash in Somerset County, Pennsylvania at 8:03 a.m. MDT. We later learned that was United Airlines Flight 93 and a group of brave citizens and members of the aircrew fought the terrorist hijackers crashing the plane before it could do any more harm and damage. Then at 8:28 a.m. MDT as I stared at the television, the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Hearing the PASS devices I said, “They’re dead.”
2,996 people died on 9-11 including 343 FDNY firefighters. Countless more firefighters, police officers, and civilians were injured. Hundreds more would die over the years due to their injuries and illnesses contracted because of the toxic dust they inhaled. Everyone who is old enough remembers where they were that day and many remember exactly what they were doing when the tragic, evil terrorist events unfolded. Writing this the feelings of anguish, hurt, and anger bubble to the surface, but I am not writing about those emotions. I want to briefly describe the kindness and respect shown in the days following 9-11.
The statue in the photo was in front of Loveland Fire Station 2 (since relocated to a new Fire Station 2) and within hours people began stopping by and laying flowers. The banner was erected to remember and honor our brothers in the FDNY, NYPD, and Port Authority Police. Citizens began showing up at the fire stations with plates of food offering their condolences to us, even though we weren’t in New York City, the Pentagon, or rural Pennsylvania. The outpouring of kindness was overwhelming at times. The community came together and so did the nation.
The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) annual fallen firefighter’s memorial had been scheduled for Saturday, September 15th in Colorado Springs, and whether the service would continue remained in question for a couple of days. Then we received word that not only would the service be held, but an event was organized at the Colorado Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Lakewood prior to the IAFF ceremony. Plans were announced that fire apparatus from Northern Colorado and the Denver Metro Area would convene in Lakewood for the memorial and then convoy to Colorado Springs.
Loveland Fire participated in the event, and I had the privilege to ride on one of our fire engines. What I saw that day was forever burned into my memory. Pulling out of the parking lot in Lakewood, we were situated approximately midway in the convoy. As the fire apparatus snaked its way towards Interstate 25, we were escorted by police officers, and every intersection was blocked. People lined the streets waving flags, hands over their hearts, veterans saluted, people were crying, and vehicles pulled off and stopped. At intersections and overpasses, firefighters stood by their rigs with flags flying and they saluted as we passed by. This continued all the way south into Colorado Springs until we reached the staging area where we were met by more fire apparatus from Southern Colorado.
After a period of waiting, we climbed back into our trucks and the procession started towards the IAFF Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The streets were lined with citizens, military personnel, police officers, and firefighters in uniform. Approaching the memorial site our rig slowed and I saw a lady standing along the side of the street with tears streaming down her face. She was holding the hands of her two little girls who were waving American flags. In my thirty-seven years as a firefighter, I never participated in anything as emotional as that day.
Twenty years have passed, and the nation has changed; however, I do not believe for the good. On 9-11, the world witnessed countless acts of courage, heroism, and leadership. The stories are too numerous to mention in this article. The nation came together in the days, weeks, and months that followed. Our military went into action and took the fight to the terrorists. Leadership was exhibited at all levels and across the board. Twenty years later much of that has changed. We live in a divided nation and a divided nation will not stand. In Matthew 12:25 Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” First and foremost, this nation needs to turn to Christ. Second, our country is in dire need of leadership from the local level to state capitols, and from the halls of Congress to the White House leadership is needed. But it all starts with us. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on 9-11, step up and lead, and remember those who perished on that day of evil.