The tragedy of nine years ago, the day we all lost our innocence, is firmly etched in my memory.
On September 11, 2001, hundreds of the bravest of New York City's Fire Department answered the call. Three hundred and forty three of them never returned.
But the numbers tell only a fraction of the story. The faces and names say far more. A father and son. A chaplain. A commander. A rookie. Strangers to most of those they passed on Sept. 11, but heroes to them all.
For thousands of horrified office workers who fled the terrorist attacks that fateful morning, the most remarkable sight during their descent was the wave of determined firefighters advancing toward the burning sky. They were going to a place where everyone was damn well trying to get out of. And, if you would have asked anyone of them, 'What are you doing this for?' The reply would have been the same, 'This is my job.'"
Yeah, it was their job and one that they didn't take lightly. They all have pride in what they do. They're firemen! And yes, when people are running from a burning building, they are the ones running into it. However, if anyone ever paid them any mind, or congratulated them for their heroism, each and every one would just say, "This is my job. I was just doing something that anyone of my brother's would have done."
One particular "hero" who epitomizes the essence of a fireman is Christopher Blackwell. Chris was a member of Rescue 3, an elite company in the Bronx that specializes in technical rescues. They are the fireman's fireman. Chris was always one to shy away from publicity or fame. He'd do "his job" and then pack it all in before the company would 10-2 (return to quarters).
One particular recollection of Chris was told by one of his "brothers" at his funeral. It was a story of when Rescue 3 had responded after a jet, after take-off from Laguardia Airport, crashed into the East River. Chris and his brothers from Rescue 3 were busy, tending to the all the passengers. They placed themselves in a perilous situation as they worked in an airplane that was partially submerged and could sink further at any moment. They worked for hours until all survivors were freed from the wreckage. The last passenger to be removed was an elderly woman who couldn't thank Chris and the others enough. All Chris said to her, "Don't thank me. Just remember... it was the firemen who got you out!".
Up on the land, the press had convened. Lights and cameras were everywhere. There were some "emergency" workers there being interviewed. The members of Rescue 3 by-passed all the commotion, and headed back to their rig to head back to quarters. The glory was not for them.
Back at the firehouse, they were watching the news and all came around when they noticed that the last woman they removed was being interviewed. The camera showed her on a gurney surrounded by NYC's finest. The reporter asked her what she had thought of all the brave rescuer's, pointing to the policemen who were basking in the spotlight. She asked him, "What do you mean? It was the firemen...the firemen that got me out!"
To this day, that story still brings a smile to my face. Most people don't realize that being a fireman not only what they do; its who they are. And.. they wouldn't change their lot in life for anything. They will forever walk proud.
Chris Blackwell, 42 years old, was a 20-year veteran of the FDNY with 12 of those years proudly served in "Big Blue". Chris was a fire department medal winner of several occasions and a paramedic on the side. Chris leaves behind his wife Jane and daughters Alex and Sam and son Ryan.
Remember Chris and the other members of Rescue 3 - Firefighters Thomas Foley, Thomas Gambino Jr., Raymond Meisenheimer, Donald Regan, Gerard Schrang, Joseph Spor and covering Captain Brian Hickey.
Remember the 343!
God Bless them all.