Most of us will always remember the sheer destruction and devastation caused by this attack and the nearly 3,000 innocent people who lost their lives.
Most of us will never forget the initial shock of exploding planes, crumbling buildings and dust-covered men and women escaping from ground zero. We also remember the many great acts of heroism by so many ordinary Americans and emergency responders.
It’s hard to quantify how many lives were saved by ordinary civilians, but we do know that all of the victims were someone’s family, friend, coworker or loved one. On what started as an otherwise normal day, with people innocently going about their routines, many suddenly found themselves being rescuers in one of the most challenging and hazardous incidents in history. Without their extraordinary sacrifice and support, there surely would have been more casualties.
From a firefighter’s perspective, we will never forget the 343 brave officers and firefighters that paid the ultimate sacrifice trying to save as many lives as possible. There are so many stories of heroism and courage exhibited on that day, but three examples come to mind:
Chief Ray Downey was in charge of rescue operations at the tower site on 9/11. Being in charge, he could have set up his operation at a safe distance from the incident, but that was not the makeup of this 39-year veteran of the FDNY. As a former U.S. Marine and one of the most decorated officers in the department’s history, he chose to run rescue operations on the front line and to actively participate in rescues in the south tower. Chief Downey did what he had always done -- he placed the well-being of others before his own. While the collapse of the south tower took his life, it did not take the spirit of the firefighters he led.
Another example was Chief of Department Peter Ganci, the highest-ranking officer of the FDNY. Having survived the first building collapse of the south tower, he and many of his command personnel were able to climb out of the basement where the initial command post was placed. Chief Ganci then sent everyone north to set up a new command post out of harm’s way. Instead of going directly to the command post, he started rescue operations on West Street, which left him in the collapse zone when the north tower fell. In spite of the personal risk, he felt that he could do the most good for his firefighters and civilians by setting up a new rescue operations area before going to the command post. There is no doubt that his actions saved many lives
Lastly, we recall the story about the courageous FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge. While this position was not filled by sworn firefighters, it was common practice for FDNY chaplains to respond to any major incident in New York City. Without concern for his own safety, Chaplain Judge responded, as he had so many times before, to administer Last Rites to firefighters and civilians. Shortly after his arrival, he was hit by falling debris, which killed him instantly. He was one of the first casualties on the ground from the attack.
“Never forget” is a phrase that the American ﬁre service and the Louisville Fire Department use to remember the 343 brave ﬁreﬁghters that lost their lives in the line of duty on 9/11. It was in that spirit that we dedicated a bronze plaque at Station 1, marking the signiﬁcance of that day in American history. It also serves as a daily reminder of the risks associated with our jobs and that we should never take for granted what we have learned from those who sacriﬁced the most. We encourage everyone to visit our 9/11 memorial plaque and our recently dedicated piece of World Trade Center metal on display at the newly renovated Station 1.