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Reflecting on 9/11

Joseph Kitchen, Bath Twp. Fire Department (Lima, Ohio)

     I slept right through the September 11th  terrorist attacks. By the time I awoke, both towers had collapsed, the Pentagon had been attacked, and the last plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. I had worked the night before and only realized what had happened when I turned on the television to find news coverage of the events on every channel. It certainly didn’t take long for me to know that what had taken place on this day was catastrophic and would change the lives of many Americans, including mine, forever.  I quickly got dressed and went down to the fire station. There was no local emergency or need to respond there but, like most people that day, I felt like I needed to be somewhere. I watched several hours of coverage with my fellow firefighters. I recall that we discussed, long before the media was reporting it, that the loss of life for the first responders would be staggering. We were correct, 343 firefighters were killed on September 11th.  I remember that uneasy feeling of “what’s’ next?” that we all felt that day. The fear of another attack was real. Our country had changed, and so had I. Although I had been a firefighter and EMT for over a decade, it was in the days and weeks after September 11th that I felt called to do more. A few months later I became chief of our department and began to lead our organization through what has now been over a decade of major changes for first responders in our local community and our nation.

     Fourteen years after September 11th the role of first responders is very different. Although we still respond to routine motor vehicle crashes, house fires, and medical emergencies as we always have, we now know that in the event of a major disaster, it is our local first responders who will be expected to be first on the scene to begin to mitigate the emergency. We have seen major changes in training. Most of our department’s firefighters are now “Weapons of Mass Destruction” Technicians, trained to respond to chemical, radiological, and biological emergencies as part of our County Hazmat Team. Through our local Homeland Security agency, our county has obtained valuable equipment by using state and federal grants which will help us to notify the community earlier and will allow us to better respond to emergencies.

     For me personally, September 11th had a profound effect on my life. Initially angry that this horrific event had taken place; it led me to look for a way to help better protect my own community. I had never seriously considered becoming a chief officer until 9/11, but I knew if I wanted to make the biggest impact on my department, that this was the right thing for me to do with my career. Many firefighters have similar stories and feel the same way. We know that we can never let those 343 firefighters be forgotten. We also know that another event, perhaps another terrorist attack, a Katrina-like weather event, or host of unknown “worst case scenario” emergencies could unfold in our own community at any time. We know that we could get the call to respond to be first on the scene and I am confident that we are all prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our residents safe and protect lives and property.

     Although tragic and still painful to remember, the lessons learned on September 11th have led our nation’s first responders to be better trained, equipped and prepared to respond to major emergencies and disasters. We now communicate better with each other through greatly improved radio systems, we regularly meet  and strategically plan how we can better work together and most importantly we truly recognize how important our interoperability with each has become. We will honor the memory of those lost on September 11th by continuing to improve operations and training and never forget the sacrifices made on that fateful day. Every firefighter, EMT, paramedic, 911 operator, police officer, and hazmat responder should certainly recognize what a true honor it is to serve, and we do our best continue to make our communities as safe as they can be.

     Finally, we must never forget what this day means to our nation and to our beloved fire service. Every seasoned firefighter must now talk to new recruits about 9/11 and its effect on the fire service. Every parent needs to talk to their children and share their personal 9/11 story. We must not let 9/11 fade away to become a distant memory or a history book footnote. In order to properly honor those lost, when we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, we must remember the names and faces of those lost and share their stories for generations to come.

Joseph Kitchen, OFC, is the Chief of the Bath Twp. Fire Dept. (Lima, Ohio.) He began his career in 1990 and has served as fire chief since 2002. He holds degrees in EMS and fire science, and in 2012 was named “Fire Officer of the Year” by the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Follow Chief Kitchen on Twitter @bathtwpchief and visit his department’s website at www.bathtwpfd.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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