Thank you Chief Jones….
Congressman Price, Mayor Clineshmidt, Chief Blue and guest…..
It is indeed a true honor to be here with you on this anniversary date that we should never forget, and always pass on to our brothers and sisters in the service who serve beyond us.
September 11, 2001….. a morning like any other morning…. Changed forever at 8:46am when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
We are here this morning to remember all the victims of that day, all told almost 3000 perished in New York City, in Arlington Virginia, and in a rural field in Shanksville Pennsylvania. My experiences though, were working alongside the public servants in New York City who had lost 343 firemen, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority Officers.
My 9/11 experience began as most of you, watching the TV in disbelief at work at our regional EM Office on that Tuesday morning. I would like to share with you this morning a few of my experiences for the next 3 weeks that were all driven by that first crash at 8:46, and the next at 9:02am.
By 11:00am, I was on my way to Raleigh having been requested to come in and assume the State Emergency Response Team Leader role…. Our Director and Asst Director were in Denver, Colorado at the annual national state EM Directors Conference….ALL STATE EM Directors were in Denver Colorado that morning.
As I arrived, I was shuffled into the briefing room just in time to stand next to Governor Easley for a live press conference where he assured the citizens of the state that we were prepared and ready for what the coming days may bring. I spent the next 3 days in charge of the state EOC until my Director could drive back from Colorado.
On Friday afternoon, he asked me to deploy to New York City as part of the first national EMAC Incident Management Team. Sunday Morning I drove up to Albany, New York. Monday afternoon, September 17th, our team was flown into New York City by military helicopter. Tuesday morning, I was assigned a role in Logistics for Recovery Operations. Sadly, we knew that Tuesday that there would be no more survivors due to the extreme heat from the fires that were burning under the pile. Determined, Fire Department New York members and others continued rescue operations into the following weekend. It was that weekend, on Saturday, September 22nd, that rescue operations ceased, Sunday was a day of closure, and recovery operations began in earnest on Monday September 24th.
My first impression I would like to try and share with you was “the pile” that was deemed as “ground zero.” A smoldering pile of steel and debris some 4 to 5 stories high and as wide as 3 football fields. The smell was indelible, like a house fire but 10 times stronger. I wore a mask when I went down from the EOC, but the smell was permeating. I had experienced wide swaths of hurricane damage, narrow corridors of Tornado damage, flooding and fires…. But by the time I had walked just halfway around the pile my first time down, I had to stop and sit down realizing how many souls were buried just yards from where I was….
And it was a fireman who walked over and asked me, if I was alright….I told him this was my first walk down, and he said that he understood…. Didn’t give me a hard time, didn’t launch into what his role was or what he had been doing… just said “take your time” before he walked off.
Our job in logistics brought me down to the pile almost everyday as we began the slow process of tracking, recovering and re-assigning response resources. We were always met with patience and understanding… and the usual question of where was THAT accent from….. which I normally answered WHAT accent, youse guys have got an accent!
After the first 3 days of being ferried to our hotel, we walked the 10 blocks after that. The outpouring of generosity was incredible, shop owners would see our gear and run in to their shops and come out with water, drinks, sandwiches…. People constantly thanked us on the streets as we walked… restaurants would not give us a bill after our meals, and all this made you walk more humble, and more appreciative of this massive effort that was underway. I understand in speaking with New Yorkers that this mood of generosity and closeness actually continued on for about a year… which is quite impressive that a single event would resonate among the city for that long. Disasters do bring out the best in people….. the media may only report the small amounts of looting and crime after disasters… but I want you to know that statistics show that people give more, crime rates go down and people help each other through these difficult times.
I will tell you that the Incident Command System worked in the EOC and down at the pile. As I learned more about the Fire Department New York and what they were overcoming, I began to appreciate their history, their strength and their sense of family. It seems everytime I was introduced to a fireman he would call over his brother, sister, uncle or even father and introduce me to them and this went on every day. You hear the number 343 as the total firemen and paramedics killed in the department…. What you might not have read or heard is the breakdown of that number….
2 Assistant Chiefs
18 Battalion Chiefs
I tell you this breakdown so that you will realize that tradition and service is what kept this department going. What a loss of leadership and experience in one day.
So, Through your daily shifts, the occasional quarrel, the occasional rumor control, the constant training and even when Chief Jones or Chief Blue gives you THE LOOK…. I hope that from this talk you might smile and remember the tradition and service that you represent and THAT should be what keeps you going.
I am proud that we as a country overcame this event, I am proud that with the help of people like Congressman Jones, and the leadership of people like Chief Jones and Chief Blue that our services are more prepared and better trained than we were 10 years ago. But it is a different time, and a different place we find ourselves in…. and I do miss the security that was taken from us. When my children were in elementary school, I remember I would see a lost backpack under the bleachers during a game….. I would run over, look through it, and try to determine whose child was going to be in trouble that night if I didn’t get it delivered……. Now, when I see a backpack under the bleachers I become aware, I approach cautiously looking for anything that may be protruding, and then I find a law enforcement person to report it to…… I do miss it just being “just a lost backpack”……
I would like to end with a quote from the album of one of my generations foremost singer / songwriters… Bruce Springsteen, who put out “The Rising” in 2002 whose songs are all about 9/11…
“Into The Fire” is the third song on the album, and he writes from a loved ones perspective but reflects the true meaning of tradition and service that day:
“I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love”
Thank you again, for the honor of speaking with you on today, the 10th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, attacks…. And we will never forget…..