Today is November 11, veterans’ day. As a veteran, I can tell you that I don’t need or want a holiday to honor what I did. I don’t even stand when places ask us to. My wife doesn’t understand why. I just don’t think that I did anything special. If you want to honor someone for their service, please wait for Memorial day.
Exactly twenty years ago. I still remember that morning in more detail than all but of a few of the mornings that have come since. The sky was a beautiful blue, the sun was warm, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A typical Central Florida day. My shift, C shift, had just started our 24 hour workday.
I was driving Engine 2 that morning. Dennis was riding in the seat next to me as the Lieutenant, and Justin was the back seat firefighter. Our shift had begun at 7:30 that morning as it always did. We did our morning routine as we always do. At 8:30, we left the station to do annual flow testing of fire hydrants.
By 8:45, we were behind the Winn Dixie and just about to test our first hydrant. Our Battalion Chief called us and told us to return to the station and turn on the TV. I remember jokingly asking Dennis who the guy on the radio was and what they had done to the Chief, since he would never tell us to watch TV during the day.
We arrived back in the station just in time to see the second plane hit the south tower. I remember watching Fox news and seeing them switch to the DC bureau, where reporters said they could see a column of smoke. Things were happening so fast, I couldn’t figure out what that smoke was coming from. It was then that a fellow firefighter told me that the Pentagon had been hit.
The chief called us, and when I was on the phone with him, the first tower fell. The chief said to me, “Oh my God. 30,000 people just died.” I remember being stunned that so many people could be in a building.
By noon, we had an armed SWAT officer with an MP-5 riding along with us on all of our calls “for security.”
For weeks, we firefighters were stunned at the loss of 343 firefighters. I felt a sense of awe that the guys who went into that second tower after watching the first one fall went into that building, in awe of the guys who were in the second tower when that first one fell, all the while knowing that they would never come out of the second tower. What was going through their minds? I asked myself if I could make the same choice, if I *knew* that I would not come out?
We all wanted to be able to say yes. It isn’t the same thing when you go into an ordinary fire. Firefighters are a cocky, professional bunch. When we run into a burning building, we tell ourselves that we are trained and experienced enough that it will not happen to us. Not so those guys in the towers. They went in KNOWING that they wouldn’t come out. That is a time that you don’t know what you would do until the moment of truth comes.
I just hoped that I would have the fortitude to make the choice that needed to be made, to have the courage to choose duty and honor over self preservation, and the fortune to never be placed in that position. I hoped that I would never have to make that choice.
I spent the majority of my adult life in one uniform or another, dedicated to the protection of American lives and values. I spent six years in the Navy, doing two combat tours in the Persian gulf. I wasn’t a big hero or anything. I, like millions of others did my job. After that, I spent two decades in a firefighter’s uniform. I that time, I ran into hundreds of burning buildings, jumped into a dozen lakes, thousands of medical scenes, and 22 natural disasters. I was injured three times in the line of duty. I saw a couple of thousand dead bodies, dozens of shootings and stabbings, and saved more than a few lives.
In 2011, I retired. I had seen enough death, misery, and blood for one lifetime. I thought that the time of risking life and limb for the good of this nation and its people was over. I had given enough. I deserved to be left alone to grow old and enjoy the rest of my life in as much peace as I could manage.
All I want is to be left alone to grow old in peace. The events of the past 18 months make me believe that this won’t happen. I fear that I may have to make that choice after all.
This is so typical of the people who live in big cities. This guy from New York visited Chicago and Detroit, what people from NYC consider to be ‘small towns’ located in ‘flyover’ country.
I’ve heard some people say that New York has everything and other cities are just small towns — some of my family members have even gone as far as to say the Midwest contains only cornfields.
We all know what they think of the south- it is filled with racist, uneducated, idiot rednecks whose main form of entertainment is going to the Klan meeting after a day of hillbilly hand fishin’.
He was also surprised that there were, you know, things to do.
Chicago and Detroit have chic restaurants, trendy stores, unique bars, and popular clubs.
This article is a perfect example of exactly the kind of elitist attitude that makes everyone in the country dislike people from New York City. We used to regularly get people from there who would walk into the fire station to sightsee. They were amazed that we had a large fire station that was filled with modern equipment, much of it better than what FDNY has. They were always surprised to find out that more than half of the guys on duty had college degrees in fire science, emergency medicine, or a related field. They were also surprised that about ten percent of the department were women.
Then the stories would start. We would have to hear about how the guy worked for “the New York Fire Department” where he was inevitably a chief, and then we would hear about how that department ran so many more big fires that we did, yada, yada.
So one day, I had had enough. I looked this guy who was telling me about some four alarm fire or some such, and I said, “Yeah, we get fires here too. We don’t get big ones like that, because we put them out while they are still small, because that is our fucking job.”
He walked out at that point, and left us to enjoy the rest of our provincial day in peace.