Twenty two years ago today. 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 workday.

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. I commented “There is no way that the smoke from NYC is visible in Washington.” It was then that a fellow firefighter told me that the Pentagon had been hit.

The chief called us to disclose the plans for the remainder of the day. While 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 and respect for the guys who went into that second tower after watching the first tower fall. They went into that building knowing that they would never come out of the second tower. What was going through their minds? I asked myself if I was capable of making 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 with 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. In that time, I ran into hundreds of burning buildings, jumped into a dozen lakes, thousands of medical scenes, and traveled to 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 two and a half years make me believe that this won’t happen. I fear that I may have to make that choice after all.

Categories: The Collapse


Tom from East Tennessee · September 11, 2022 at 5:03 pm

I too remember that Tuesday morning well. I had been on blood pressure meds for a month (job-related stress) and was on the way to the doctor’s office to get seen again and maybe come off the meds. I heard about it on the radio in traffic. A good friend of mine, a shipmate from the Navy, “John” I knew worked in the WTC somewhere so I called my wife and asked her to pull up his business card and see which floor he worked on. The 2nd plane hit while we were talking. I got to the doctor’s office 10 or 20 minutes later and she took my BP and just kind of smiled gently and said “why don’t you come back next week and let’s see then”. My friend John made it out, thank God but I wasn’t able to reach his parents until late that night to find out. And of course so many others didn’t.

Today we should remember the fallen. Time enough later for me to consider penance for the shame of falling for W’s BS about Afghanistan and Iraq, the Patriot Act and everything else. I have to ‘fess up, I was angry and scared for years and would have voted for just about anything involving dead arabs and religion of peacers. Ironic that the stuff we supported will be part of what comes back to bite us.

But enough of that, remember the fallen and especially the many heros, the firefighters and others. Rick Rescorla, Welles Crowther (I only learned of him today, 24 years old), so many others.

    Mike_C · September 11, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    I was just about to mention Rescorla, but you beat me to it. Daniel Hill’s (Capt, USA, ret) autobiography “A Life of Blood and Danger” has several long sections about Rescorla in his pre-911 life. Hill and Rescorla met in Africa decades before and became fast friends. Hill’s book is worth reading for its own sake as well.

    As to 911 itself, I had a late start that morning and heard the confused initial reports on NPR as I was driving to clinic. Something about a small plane hitting the WTC, but nothing to worry about, was the first peep. Then more details emerged. A hour after getting to work, the normal activities had ground to a halt. The next day a senior physician was ranting on about “damned cowards!” And there were mutterings about “idiot goat herders” (this in an academic hospital in a very progressive city).

    I remember thinking, “This guy is a fool.” I didn’t quite call him that, but I did say, “Those guys were assholes, but ‘coward’ was not their problem. [Waving my arm to encompass the room] How many of YOU would deliberately die in a fiery crash for something you believed in? As far as ‘idiot’ goes — they got three out of four planes time on target. Even the damned airlines can’t get 75% of their own planes where they need to be on time.” This is not to say that I admire or otherwise side with the 911 terrorists. But it does no good to underestimate the abilities or the resolve of your enemy.

    In the days after, the political fall out of 911 (a series of own goals if ever there was one) got me thinking much much more about our relationship with Our Greatest Ally. And about the power and often malignant influence of their co-ethnics within the US under their various guises. This was stuff I didn’t really think about before. Knowing what I now know has not made me happier. (Once you start noticing, it’s everywhere.) But compared to the price Odin paid for knowledge, I suppose peace of mind is small potatoes.

Jonesy · September 12, 2022 at 4:14 pm

“All I want is to be left alone to grow old in peace. The events of the past two and a half years make me believe that this won’t happen. I fear that I may have to make that choice after all.”

I’m at this juncture as well, maybe a few years behind you…I agree we seem to be heading for troubled waters. I struggle with opposing extremes… hoping that nothing happens but if it does, hoping that it happens soon enough such that I am physically able to deal with it to be able to spare my kids’ (soon to be adult age) involvement.

Will · September 15, 2022 at 10:06 pm

What has pissed me off about those firefighters that died in the WTC is that not only did they kill themselves by going up those stairs, knowing the tower would fall at some point, but they caused the death of an unknown number of tower occupants that didn’t make it out due to those people going UP the stairs when it should have been ONE WAY ONLY!

Courage in the performance of a dangerous job is admirable, but unthinking adherence to rote actions is foolish. A high price was paid, by others, for their actions.

Along with that are the unknown number of people in wheelchairs that were carried down the stairs, also slowing down the flow of people.

Slick · September 18, 2022 at 2:21 pm

Respect. I feel the same way.

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