9-11 and how football got me through – One volunteer’s story

Street Talk 9-11 and how football got me through – One volunteer’s story

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(Originally posted on 9-11-12)

Dedicated to the victims of 9-11-01. Godspeed.

Eleven years already; where has the time gone?

Tuesday marks the 11th anniversary of that horrible day in September. Everyone seems to remember where they were or what they were doing that day and I am no different.

I’ll never forget receiving a phone call from my brother that fateful morning telling me “a plane just hit the World Trade Center in New York City, quick get to the fire station.” I have been a volunteer firefighter for the past 21 years and it all changed for me that day.

As I entered the fire station that morning to the sound of CNN reporting the United States of America was under attack I was horrified at the images of people trapped inside and the rescuers trying to rescue them when one of the Trade Center towers collapsed. As all eyes were glued to the television and the devastation being shown, news quickly came in about an airplane that struck the Pentagon and a plane that crashed in a field in Shanksville, PA.

I, like many others at that time, was motionless, speechless, and horrified. Needing some fresh air after breaking the eternity of silence I stepped outside; there it hit me that everything was silent. No airplanes soaring, no helicopters chopping past, no cars driving by. It was eerily still.

When I went inside to join my fellow fire dept. brothers, the fire station was filled with not only fire dept. personnel but with members of the community. Men and women both wept, for the news spread quickly that the remaining World Trade Center tower had fallen, as images of the injured littered the TV.

The phone at the fire house was ringing off the hook from members of the dept. wanting to know if we were going up there to help out. We were told to stand down for now. No one knew when or where or if another attack was going to unfold. Life as we knew it wasn’t so certain after all. Cell phones were being dialed at a rapid pace from the guys trying to contact family members and loved ones. My brother and I made sure all was ok with our family and everyone was safe and sound. As always we got the usual “stay safe out there and watch our butts” speech from both our mom and dad – but this time it was different, for they knew from the images on the television we could be faced with the same problem if something happened nearby. We calmly reassured them that we would be ok and for the rest of that fateful day we were.

The world seemed to have stopped that day – no calls, no nothing.

The streets were empty.

We watched along with the rest of the world that night as information was passed along about the day’s events in New York City, The Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA. Lists were being formed at the firehouse as to who would be available to hop a train at a moment’s notice to New York City to stand by for the city’s depleted manpower. Every department across the country was ready to go at a moment’s notice to help their brethren.

Unlike in many others, the phone call never came to our department.

Some were relieved not to have seen the massive carnage, while others felt helpless for all we could do was watch on TV and couldn’t be there to assist.

However, that changed over the next few days.

The next few days, the devastation was in full effect, images coming in from around “Ground Zero,” as it was deemed. The rescuers were still working 24 hrs. a day in shifts.

Firefighters, police officers, port authority officers, construction crews, numerous city and state agencies, as well as federal agencies were all heavily involved in rescue efforts. At the Pentagon the images were of the same devastation and crews working feverishly to rescue people that were still entrapped in the gravel of the walls that were impacted by American Airlines flight 77.

In Shanksville, PA, stories of the heroes onboard United Airlines Flight 93 began to unfold. Relatives reportedly received phone calls from family members onboard explaining how they had been hijacked and how they crashed while the passengers tried to retake the airliner. The country seemed united in relief efforts in and around the city of New York as well as Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

For us at the fire station, with heavy hearts, it was business as usual answering alarms in between watching the news of rescue efforts being made in New York at the World Trade Center.

After about five days or so the phone call came into our department as well as other departments around the country for help. The call for help wasn’t to respond for help at the Trade Center but the call was to help our fallen brothers who perished on that tragic day.

Three hundred and forty-three firefighters were lost on September 11th, and the city and families didn’t have the resources to give them a proper burial.

Numerous fire departments from Maryland, both career and volunteer, loaded trains, buses, and personal vehicles and made the trip to New York City. During our trek to New York City I was trying to prepare myself for what I was about to experience. Images of the attacks ran through my mind as we all tried to make light conversation but it was apparent we all were thinking the same thing:

“Please prepare me for what I am about to see.”

We got to the city a little after 1:00 that morning and the city was like a ghost town. The streets were empty. It was a strikingly odd scene compared to the ones I’ve seen in movies and shows depicting a round the clock hustle and bustle of a city that never sleeps.

We found the hotel we were staying at, checked in, and caught last call at the hotel bar for a much-needed drink before we crashed for the night for some sleep to prepare us for the day. The next day we awoke, threw on our dress uniforms and headed to the cathedral for the funeral service of a fallen firefighter.

On our way it hit me – people on the street would stop us to shake our hands or clap when we walked past. For many of us we have never heard “Thanks” so much in our lives.

Arriving at the Cathedral there was a sea of blue from all the responders that arrived to pay their respects to our fallen brother, some from nearby areas and some as far away as California. This scene played out over the course of the next three days, attending funeral after funeral for our brother firefighters whom we had never met.

One thing that we all had in common though was our desire to help others.

As we toured Ground Zero it was an emotional roller coaster for my fellow firefighters and I. Talking to firefighters who lost brothers, sisters, dads, sons, cousins, and moms – all there still searching for them.

Streets were filled with shrines to family members that were lost and posters hung on every corner asking “have you seen this person?”

People helping people, neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers helping strangers – it was a time unlike any other in America.

We returned home with a sense of pride for what we had done – our best to help out the nation in this time of need, as well as being there for our fallen brothers.

Much like Football did for America in the weeks to follow.

The NFL cancelled a week of games following the 9-11 disaster that struck our country. However, we refused to give in and show the terrorists that they had “won.”

The return of football brought the country together even more and helped many – myself included – get back to a sense of normalcy. Tributes to the victims and to our country took over every single stadium throughout the entire United States.

The games had a different feeling about them that day. Sure it was about wins and losses but it didn’t feel that way. It was more about coming together as a nation to celebrate our unity. For me the game of football really helped me get past the tragic sights of that September day. It was something I could focus on to ease my mind of thoughts of my fallen brothers, although those thoughts have stayed with me every day since.

So as we all make our ways to the stadiums this week to root for our favorite teams or to boo our least favorites please take a moment to honor those that were lost on that fateful September morning. For me I will once again honor my fallen brothers in a memorial service then it will be off to put some time in at the fire station, as I know my fallen brothers would like me to do.

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Brian Bower

About Brian Bower

Brian Bower is avid football fan, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He has covered the Baltimore Ravens and NFL player positives in the community for the past 6 years. This will be his 3rd season with the Russell Street Report. His work has been featured on NFL.com, ESPN blogs, Comcast SportsNet Baltimore, as well as the Baltimore Ravens web page. He is also a regular guest on local radio and ESPN Radio in Honolulu, Hawaii. Brian is very involved in the community and has spent the last twenty years as a volunteer firefighter. Email him at [email protected]

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