CHICAGO – After 20 years, the images of the 9/11 attacks are still haunting and surreal for most Americans.
To those who have survived, who have lost a loved one or a friend, or to those who have answered the call for help, September 11 lives in them and will remain so forever.
A beautiful New York morning was turned upside down and the consequences are being felt almost 20 years later, with the country’s longest war not officially over until now.
It all started with American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46am.
Just 17 minutes later, at 9:03 am, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. The nation will soon learn that the attacks were orchestrated by the militant Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda.
Some people had already died. But, over time, those numbers would fade in comparison at the end of the day.
Other people trapped and responding to the call for help were the New York City fire department and police. Chicago Fire Chief Bob Hoff, Western Springs Firefighter Jimmy Regan and Chicago Fire Captain Pat Maloney watched from afar.
Hoff was the director of the department’s training academy. Its wheels were already turning, their New York counterparts in desperate need of help.
Regan had a firefighter friend who worked at O’Hare Airport, where there was confusion and concern.
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This sentiment is easy to understand, with a nation full of uncertainties about what might be the next step and when and where it will happen.
In an hour and 42 minutes, the towers collapsed. The hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 had landed in the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93, which was also heading to Washington DC, crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside near Shanksville after the plane was picked up by brave passengers on board.
“We don’t care about hurting ourselves. We wanted to go out and help, and it was about contacting then fire marshal Jim Joyce, who was one of the best the town has ever had, ”Hoff said.
With Commissioner Joyce’s approval, firefighters from the city and surrounding suburbs hit the road for Ground Zero. With 75 bottles of compressed air, saws and 15 vans from Chicago, first responders headed for New York.
On the morning of September 12, firefighters had crossed the bridge into Manhattan and reported to the FDNY Chief of Staff.
“The fire pumps crashed two feet high, and then over time I found out that all of my friends in Rescue 2 died. So probably at the end of the day I had 12 people close to me who died. I couldn’t believe it, ”Regan said.
They split into groups and worked 10 to 12 hour shifts, working the mountains of rubble in the hopes of finding someone alive.
“In 47 years in the fire service, I have never felt anything like this before or after this. It was a burnt smell, and we all smelled like plastic, wood, mattresses, etc. But that smell permeated your clothes, ”Hoff said.
While everyone hoped survivors would be found, none were at the time. However, bodies are said to be found, including those of several members of the FDNY.
“Their pride, if they found one of their members, they took it away. No one else did. It’s unwritten fire department law, ”Hoff said.
It was dangerous to say the least. Hoff remembers that a concrete slab was about to fall. The “All Call to Clear” was given to the site and they dispersed, running blocks toward the Hudson River. Her son, also a firefighter, was also present at Ground Zero.
For two hours, they could not reach because of the loss of radio and cellular service.
When they weren’t working at Ground Zero, they were helping fire stations, cooking and cleaning while attending funerals.
“There were seven or eight funerals a day. You had memorial services, funerals. It was heartbreaking, ”Regan said.
They met men like FDNY captain John Viggiano, who lost two sons in the attack and formed friendships that continue to this day.
A member of the FDNY paid tribute to CFD Battalion Commander Herbie Johnson, who died in a Chicago fire in 2012 by donating a piece of steel from the towers in his name to the city. It is now part of a memorial in a park at 106th Street and Western Avenue.
On his last day on the job, FDNY members surprised Pat Maloney, who recently retired as Special Operations Battalion Commander.
As they return to New York City to mark this 20th anniversary while keeping their promise to never forget, they ask you to do the same for those who perished on that fateful day and for those who lived.
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