Never Forget! How many times have we heard that phrase since 9/11/01? And while that remains as important as ever, we in the fire service, especially those of us with a little gray around the temples, have an even more important job to do. This year’s graduating class of high school seniors is the first full class that was not even born yet on 9/11. So, for them, it is not a matter of not forgetting; we must teach them what they need to remember. For them it is no longer current events, it is now history.
I have heard many people in the fire service utter the phrase “I really miss 9/12”. It would be easy for outsiders to misconstrue this sentiment as meaning that 9/11 was a good thing. That is the farthest from the truth. 9/11 was the darkest hour in this country since Pearl Harbor. For the fire service, it was the darkest hour ever. At Pearl Harbor, the Military was the front line. On 9/11 Fire, EMS and PD were the front lines. But on 9/12 this country came together as one like no other time in history. We stopped being Democrat or Republican, Black or White, Police or Fire, Career or Volunteer. We were all just Americans. Emergency services, construction workers, the military and private citizens all came together in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania to undertake one of the largest rescue efforts in the history of our great country.
People focus on the number of lives lost on 9/11. But what gets lost over time is the number of people that were saved on that day. Literally thousands of people were saved by the combined efforts of police, fire, EMS, military, and just normal citizens banding together. Whether it was Marines evacuating a childcare center in the Pentagon and forming a protective shield around the children, private boat owners forming the largest armada since D-Day to evacuate lower Manhattan, construction workers streaming in with their equipment to start moving debris, or thousands of firefighters from across the country volunteering their time to dig by hand through the piles to look for survivors, it was ordinary Americans performing extraordinary acts, and showing what makes this country great.
We also can’t forget the efforts of so many that for days, weeks and months after 9/11 worked tirelessly, knowing that no one was left alive in the pile, but continuing to search for remains that could be identified so that loved ones could have some closure and the victims could be sent to their final rest with dignity.
We must also remember the hundreds and maybe thousands that are sick and dying from the effects of working at Ground Zero for countless hours. Every day it seems we read about another death from 9/11 related cancer. The politicians seem to forget because they continuously need to be prodded to provide the funding to continue caring for these heroes that performed above and beyond 18 years ago and are paying the ultimate price now.
We the fire service need to stay on the front line, but this time it is the front line of teaching the next generation about the tragedies and heroism of 9/11 and making sure the current generations never forget.
It was truly the darkest hour for the fire service, but it was also our brightest. We need to make so that light continues to shine.
Ed Rush has over 43 years in the fire service, both career and volunteer. He currently serves as career Chief of the Hartsdale Fire Department, and has previously served as Chief of the Elmsford Volunteer Fire Department. Ed is also on the Board of the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) and has been a member of the IAFC since 2009.