This morning, the staff and crews of Poulsbo Fire Department and North Kitsap Fire and Rescue are holding remembrance ceremonies regarding the terrorism that happened on Sept. 11, 2001. They are low-key, subtle, to the point and while quiet, the actions make up for the lost words many have tried to find to describe last year’s tragedy on the East Coast.
While the staff and crews of both departments are 3,000 miles from Ground Zero, many had mixed feelings about the disaster. But each knew what the New York firefighters there were going through when they watched the same horrors as the rest of the world one year ago today.
Last year about this time, the public honored the national firefighters by thanking the local ones, inundating firehouses with flowers, money, cards, food, and an outpouring of public emotion.
Since then, there has been a new light shed on the fire service.
“It renewed interested knowledge or understanding of what the fire service is all about,” said PFD Fire Chief Jim Shields. “Now, maybe (the public has) a better understanding now what we’re about. I don’t want to put us in the same loss of life with F.D.N.Y. because we didn’t lose lives. But we have a strong bond, just being in the same business. And that business is helping people.”
Local firefighters made it clear that the 343 firefighters whose lives were lost in the World Trade Center buildings were only doing their job. They were doing what they were trained to do, as many of the crew members of the PFD and NKF&R both pointed out.
NKF&R Fire Chief Paul Nichol said he recently discovered new radio communication data from the morning of 9-11 on the Internet and read about the fearless voices of the firefighters who had made it to the 70th floor after the first plane hit the south tower. He said the crews just kept on working.
“It’s a natural aspect to do the job,” Nichol explained. “To push fear behind you to push ahead and do other things.”
Glen Rotsten of NKF&R went to New York and visited Ground Zero, various fire houses and other New York firefighters. He didn’t ask them what it was like that morning, but eventually, firefighters started talking.
“(One firefighter) said, ‘Anyone who says they can’t imagine it, can,’” Rotsten said, explaining that crews were just doing what they were trained to do — what they did, how they did it, how they handled it — all the questions Rotsten wanted to ask.
The New York firefighter said the experience the viewers saw on TV was exactly the way the firefighters saw it. Confusing. Dusty. Emergency crews doing their job.
“This is what we do,” said Ryan Mudie, a firefighter with PFD who visited New York twice in the past year. “This is a culture.”
Todd Bailey, a firefighter with NKF&R said the situation shows no matter what happens anywhere, there is always a risk.
“I could be in that situation, too,” Bailey explained. “(It) may not be a huge commercial structure like (WTC) but little house fires. We (would) generally lose a majority of people in our house fires.”
Either way, the most important factor is to look out for each other and make sure everyone is safe, he said.
“My heart goes out to all my brothers and the families. When I stop to think about it, probably a majority of the stations over there are missing guys from the call. We know exactly what those guys were doing, doing what they were trained to do and it’s kind of unbelievable, hard to imagine.”
And while it is hard to imagine such an event to have a positive twist, Trevor Holmberg, a firefighter with PFD was able to do just that.
“People say it was a tragedy,” he said. “But it was the single biggest rescue in history. That’s how I look at it.”