Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering September 11th

September 11th has a heart-wrenching connotation for most New Yorkers and in fact, Americans. Sadly, beyond the deaths suffered on that day, there is a feeling of life-altering change. There were also births on that day and birthdays that missed celebration everywhere across America and in New York specifically. Most adults understood the somber effect the day had on everyone, but children would have been hard-pressed to know why their parties were cancelled. Now, fourteen years later, they might understand.

Several ABG staffers responded to the 9-11 attacks mid-day as members of the fire service. One of them should have been celebrating his birthday that day. The other would normally be helping him celebrate. Friends since high school, they now found themselves downtown on this fateful day. Another friend who worked in the area was able to escape and is now dogged with a life of respiratory illness. Still another, who experienced the attacks in 1993, was getting into an elevator when she felt the building shutter, reminding her of the previous attack and just ran. It saved her life.

Once dispatched, the two friends were directed to a firehouse in the Bronx to respond in place of the regular staff. They were also there to respond for hazardous materials alarms, as most of FDNY's hazardous materials responders were either killed or busy from the attacks. One memory that remains is the smell from the towers that permeated the City. The obvious feelings of sadness, disgust, anger, fear, and so many others hung over us. Many tasks needed to be done that day, some as simple as assisting the directing of traffic as people drove frantically to exit the city. But even at a distance there was the smell. It would become the smell of death.

Actions and responses taken that day have been exhaustively critiqued, picked apart, analyzed, criticized, over-analyzed, studied, written about, talked about and dissected thousands of different ways. Those actions have altered security measures at airports. They have been changed in hopes of increasing safety and decreasing another attack such as this. But are we any safer? That seems to always be the question raised immediately after that discussion is broached. Emergency responders now have new protocols to follow when they respond. They no longer leave emergency vehicles open and unattended whether at an alarm or not. Locks are used where there had never been any. Now they must be concerned for terrorists stealing emergency vehicles to use to breach security. And still the smell lingers.

Many firefighters and other first responders quickly learn to identify the smells associated with fires, much like many recognize the smell of burning leaves in the fall. And, things we take for granted were missing that day. The sounds of sirens throughout the city were missing after the initial responses. Crime seemed to stop that day. The sky, a picture perfect blue, was bereft of airplanes and sound, except for the occasional Air Force jet and AWAC now on patrol. It was an eery feeling on top of an already surreal day. Everyone there was on edge. Dark humor that serves first responders well was conspicuously absent. What wasn't absent was the smell. Many responses to fires even today bring back that smell. But on that day, no matter where we found ourselves, the smell always found us.

Some say we should make September 11th a national holiday. Perhaps. But along with a national holiday will be the retail community making it another "Sale" day. Look at what has happened with Memorial Day and how it has become more about barbecues, shopping and going to the beach rather than honoring those who have sacrificed for us. We'll leave that discussion for another day. Today, as we remember those who perished, we wish our friend and colleague a Happy Birthday, as well as all those born on September 11th.

Some said, "Let's roll." Others, including us, say, "Let's remember!" And of course, we can never forget.

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