For so many Americans, September 11th is just an anniversary… a modern day Pearl Harbor. For some of us it’s just another day, another day exactly like 9/11. For some of us it’s like a scene out of Groundhog Day, waking up every morning to a repeat of the worst day. The academy teaches you everything you need to survive – but there is absolutely nothing that could prepare you for this.
See, I’ve been at a building collapse. I’ve dug in debris by hand in a desperate and failed attempt to rescue someone, anyone.
On June 17, 2001, I responded to a radio run of an explosion at 12-22 Astoria Blvd in Queens County, New York. At approximately 0230 hours a portable unit radioed that the structure at that address had collapsed and firefighters were trapped in the basement. Upon running priority to the location, my partner and I were one of the first PD units on scene.
We began lifting and dragging wounded firefighters from the scene to a makeshift triage area before helping those capable with the excavation to recover the missing. The entire time, debris continued to fall from the apartments that occupied the upper floors. Flammables continued to go off as the temperature rose; in return this would cause more debris to shift and slide onto us, destroying all of the progress we were making.
It was nothing to prepare me for the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The smell of Ground Zero was on absolutely everything. It was on our clothing, in our hair and inside every vehicle. You would come out of a fresh shower and you could still smell it on you; it was at the point for me were I didn’t know if it was real or psychological.
The sounds of Ground Zero echoed throughout our days. It was like those irritating jingles from the ice cream truck that get stuck in your head. Whether 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. – you could hear the moving of the machines, twisting of steel and the hiss of the steam from the water being poured on the scorching pit we called Ground Zero.
The sights were what could only be described as a war zone. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was recovered larger than a shoebox or desk phone. From the entire office complex, not a printer nor a single desk chair would be found. Scraps of flesh scattered the pit and its periphery along with scattered wallet documents like driver’s licenses and credit cards.
Years later I still hate crowded places. I still freak out if I hear a loud or low-flying plane. I still often times feel guilty that maybe more could have been done… maybe something we didn’t do brought this on. Moments have hit so hard that at times I literally feel like I can’t function. We live with the fear over who will be the next first responder to be claimed by the after-effects of the attacks.
Or worse still, waking each morning wondering if it’s the day you find out that it’s you who has the cancer, the neurological disorder or any number of other ailments that you’ve been lucky enough to dodge for so long.
We all did what we had to do, we gave it everything we had, and we wouldn’t change a damn thing.
We knew we were most likely getting screwed when they told us the air was good.
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We knew that not being provided a respirator was eventually gonna bite us in the ass.
We knew that the white powder coating every inch of us was some nasty stuff.
But we also knew that we owed it to those we have been charged to protect. This is why we chose the profession. We knew that no matter what we did, digging, security, escort or morgue – it was all part of a bigger thing. It was all equally dangerous and important.
After all this, we now have to watch our family, both through blood and oath, perishing because they chose to do something greater than all of us. Their lives are continuing to be cut short by horrible diseases caused by the inhalation of pulverized concrete, glass, human remains, plastics, noxious chemicals and so much more.
We confront the demons inside of us and do our best to keep them at bay.
For those that still serve, they continue to deal with all this, all while confronted with a growing sentiment of hate for merely donning the uniform of a first responder.
- READ: ON 9/11 A FEW PEOPLE WITH EXPIRED VISAS ATTACKED US. SINCE THEN WE’VE LOST TRACK OF MORE THAN 700,000 OTHERS…
So, while you sit back and share a tweet or a Facebook post claiming you’ll never forget… remember that some of us actually really do wish they could forget.
While you mention how you always have a hard time on this day, some of us have to bear that burden every single day.
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