Today we remember the events of 9/11 that occurred 20 years ago. On that fateful day, terrorists flew two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City, a third plane into the Pentagon just outside of Washington D.C., and a fourth plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
This was the most lethal terrorist attack in U.S. history, killing almost 3,000 people; 343 of those people killed were members of the New York Fire Department. There were 75 different fire stations in which at least one member was killed, and 78 countries lost citizens. The New York Fire Department lost its fire chief, its first deputy commissioner, one of its marshals, one of its Chaplains, as well as other administrative and specialty personnel.
I cannot fathom how deep these losses cut.
A multiple alarm incident was first radioed in when the battalion chief of Battalion 1 witnessed American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Over the next three hours, 121 engine companies, 62 ladder companies, and 27 fire officers were deployed to the scene, and all off-duty firefighters were recalled.
In addition to firefighters, many other emergency responders, including police, security, EMS, the coast guard, port authority, and military personnel, demonstrated real-life heroism, putting their lives on the line and reacting swiftly and without hesitation to serve and protect amid the largest terror attack on American soil.
The devastating effects of 9/11 cannot be minimized and were felt across the globe as many of us watched the events unfold live. Many of the firefighters and other emergency service personnel and volunteers who survived the initial 9/11 event have since developed and suffered from the long-term health impacts of 9/11.
An estimated 400,000 people were exposed to the toxic cloud in lower Manhattan following the plane crashes. Today, the U.S. federal program tracking 9/11-related illnesses has more than 81,000 emergency responders, Ground Zero workers, and volunteers enrolled, along with over 30,000 survivors who worked, lived, or went to school nearby.
As I remember this solemn day, and as the President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, I think of American firefighters whose stories I’ve been humbled to know and who embody the true spirit of first responders.
Today we honor the legacy of those who responded to this event and pay our respects for the many lives lost far too soon. May they not be forgotten.
Today, 20 years later, as we remember and pay tribute to these losses, we must also be resolute not to let this act of violence create a culture of fear and hate. First responders have continued to respond when needed in their communities across North America and abroad to wildland fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and building collapses in the years since. By doing so every day, we continue to honor those lost.
Thank you, Merci, Wela’lioq
Fire Chief Kenneth W. Stuebing, Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency, is President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Watch the 9/11 Panel from Fire-Rescue International in Charlotte (2021) discuss "Twenty Years Since the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: What We Have Learned"