I understandably get a little reflective whenever September 11 comes around. There’s the usual reflecting on where I was when I first heard the news about the first plane striking the first tower and where I was when the second plane hit. This morning though, I decided to listen to audio files from that day.
This year I guess it’s because there are so many similarities to that day. September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. The morning was a crisp, autumn-like day, much like today, and the skies were just about as clear.
My fire company had its monthly business meeting last night, and our president reminded all of us about the similarities. Eleven years ago, much like last night, we held our monthly business meeting. We made motions, seconded them, and approved them. We paid the bills, we had refreshments after, and we all returned to our homes completely unaware of what would happen the next morning.
As I listen to these audio files, I am struck by how calm responding units were under the circumstances. To this day I have a hard time fathoming what responding companies witnessed. One tower was bad enough, and then the second. Two fifth alarm assignments operated at the same time. Company officers doing their best to size up what they had were complemented by command officers responding to the scene. And, FDNY dispatchers did an outstanding job of keeping track of who was going where.
Companies on scene got knocked down twice in ways most of us will never be able to conceptualize. Despite both collapses and a short period of radio silence, one never feels that the command structure broke down. What still impresses me to this day is the leadership on display during this incident.
I guess it’s leadership that stands out the most for me when I look back on that day. Whenever I think about September 11, 2001, I recall FDIC 2002 when then Captain Jay Jonas recalled his experience of being trapped in a stair tower in the second collapsed tower. During his address, he recalled how, when the first tower collapsed, he turned to his men and said that it was time to go. They wanted to stay, they wanted to keep going, but Jonas told them it was time to go. They never stopped helping, of course. They escorted a civilian down with them and she was with them during the second tower’s collapse. She survived because of Jonas and his crew. Once rescued, Jonas immediately reported to a command post to check in. And, I’m sure he was ready for his next assignment, as was his crew.
I was an engineering officer in my fire company on 9/11/01. I hadn’t yet ascended the ranks or had many, if any, opportunities to run even a call to an automatic fire alarm. But, I have never forgotten what Jonas said that day at FDIC 2002. As I’ve gone up the ladder at the fire company, in everything I do and at every call I respond do, my hope is that I have the wherewithal to know what Jonas knew—that it was time to go, that it was the right call to go, and that as much as it went against our instincts to keep pushing ahead, the survival of his crew outweighed committing them any longer.