Thursday, September 11, 2014

For the 343 firefighters

Before they headed in for the 110-story climb

Some numbers have stayed with me:

• 2977 people in New York City, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania died on 9/11
• 658 victims from Cantor Fitzgerald out of 960 employees
• Two to 85: age range of the victims
• 20: percentage of Americans who knew someone who got hurt or killed

A number I recently looked up:

• 343 firefighters died that day

In the past few months, since Max has determined that he is going to be a fireman when he grows up, I have met dozens of firefighters. I didn't know any before, let alone gotten into discussion with the guys at our local firehouse (and there are only guys).

Last weekend, the chief allowed Max to go upstairs to the staff's living quarters. Max plopped himself down at the gigantic dining table and we chatted with several of them. We talked about what they liked to cook. We talked about their kids. I learned that the station serves as backup for stations in several other local towns, and vice versa. It was sobering to find out that these men regularly risk their lives not just for people in our town but for those in others, too.

I've been awed by how welcoming these firefighters are to Max every single time he shows up. "Hi, Fireman Max!" they greet him. They show him the truck parts, opening compartments and explaining the equipment. They lift him up into the back seat of trucks. They turn on the truck lights and the siren and laugh heartily when Max does his imitation of one. They slide down the poles and put their jackets and helmets on him. They talk with him about the photos of fires lining the walls. They are the good people of this world.

When we were on vacation in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, in August, I saw a big chunk of metal resting in front of the firehouse we visited and I asked about it. It's a beam from one of the towers. Firefighters at the station had served on 9/11. One of the men's fathers, a New York City firefighter, had died rescuing others from the Twin Towers. The men applied to get a beam, waited for two years, drove to New York to retrieve it, then set it up as a memorial monument. It's signed by two Queens, New York fire departments that worked with the Atlantic Beach crew during their time in New York. I'd never been that close to a piece of the towers and I walked around it, hesitant to touch it. It seemed holy.

As Max plays out his firefighter fantasies, as the men we meet joke around with him, it's easy to forget that they do some of the most important and dangerous work there is. Few jobs are more selfless, as became tragically clear that September day thirteen years ago.

Later today, the kids and I will bring cookies over to the fire station, as we've done before. But at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit, I'll be at local park joining in the mass moment of silence. I'll flash back to that morning, when I watched hell unfold on a TV screen in an office conference room. I will picture the young woman, Melissa Renee Vincent, whose friendly face I saw on "MISSING" flyers everywhere. I will think of the New York Bravest who we lost on 9/11 and the ones who perished of 9/11-related illnesses in the aftermath. And I will say a little prayer for their families, and the firefighters we have come to know.

I will not forget those we lost. And I will never again take for granted the ones we have.

Top image: Twitter @BomberoFF


  1. Wow. Such a personal story. You never know how something will hit you even years after the event.

  2. As a 16 year old, I don't remember 9/11. However our 8th grade field trip was to DC and one of our stops was to the Pentagon Memorial. It was so sobering. The tour guide told us that one of the victims was born in 1998. The year most of us were born. I remember how horrified we all were at the fact someone our age died in this. There was already so much awareness that year with the 10 year anniversary that fall and Osama Bin Laden having been killed a few weeks before. Seeing the memorial made it so much more real. Today I think of her, the little girl who died.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Ellen. It is so important to remember the people who so courageously risked their lives for others that day. I'm a special education teacher, and I facilitated a conversation about 9-11 with my students on Thursday. It was very sobering to realize that not one of them was alive when it happened. I was only nine years old, and I still remember that day like it was yesterday. The best thing that my students said, though, was that on 9-11, Americans truly showed the American spirit. It brought people together. As many people were running away, there were people who were running towards the World Trade Center to try to help save lives. It was such a horrible day for Americans, but it was a unifying day, too. I am so grateful to those firefighters who risked their lives to save fellow Americans. We will forever be indebted to them. Thank you for reminding us to take some time to thank them.

  4. I was four years old when 9/11 happened. My mom sent me and my siblings out into the garden to play. My brother was two years old.

    My parents watched in horror as the planes crashed into the WTC, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. I remember seeing the smoke. We lived in Pennsylvania Philadelphia.

    My mom put her arms around me and my siblings explaining that there are some wicked people in this world.

    To Kathryn
    How can you "not" remember 9/11? YOUNGER children than you can remember that awful day clearly without issues. Shame on you. You were 16 so you WERE old enough to remember it...


Thanks for sharing!

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