Town firefighters shared their thoughts and memories on the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center , considering a day that demonstrated the danger, stress and heroism inherent in the profession.
Lt. Jeff Naples, Capt. Jason Blyth, and Firefighters Kurt Vogt, Victor Jackson and Gary Greene each have memories that stand out of that clear morning.
Naples mentioned the sense of shock that came over the campus of Southern Connecticut State University; Greene recalled thinking of his wife and his newly born son, now 17.
And they remember the sense that the country had banded together in that tragic time.
“That day (is one of the few times) the country stepped up and came together,” said Vogt. “We can squabble on a day-to-day basis about politics and all the other nonsense, but at the end of the day, when something bad happens, we step up.”
“I think you saw a lot of patriotism come out — and the true meaning of humanity,” said Naples. “Humanity is here in every single one of us, and everyone has a desire to help someone. It’s unfortunate that we see it just at these times.”
The idea of responding to the Twin Towers was difficult to imagine. They said they could not put themselves in the shoes of those firefighters — the scale isn’t something they’d deal with in Hamden.
But facing danger is part of the job.
Jackson, Greene and Blyth said that, in a moment of peril, one falls back on what one has been taught, and acts. They try to support and care for one another after difficult calls, they said.
“You just count on your training — you just do your job. Just push forward, you know?” Jackson said.
“You can’t focus on the worst-case scenarios all the time. I think we always have hope. No matter the situation, there’s always that hope, and that’s what keeps you going,” said Blyth.
“I’ve arrived at certain things, certain scenes, looking at the magnitude. And I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of heights, but I have a healthy respect for them, and it’s been my task to climb up on the roof and start cutting holes,” said Greene. “But you look at it, you come out of self, and, like he said, you rely on your training.”
Naples and Vogt said the possibility of facing danger does not weigh on them. One becomes an emergency responder, fundamentally, out of a desire to help people — that, and what comes with it, is what they’re here for, Naples said.
That impulse to aid others, the firefighters said, likely carried their colleagues through on Sept. 11.
“I think that every one of those firefighters knew what they were getting into that day. I don’t know if they knew to the extent, but their ultimate goal was to save lives,” said Naples.
“I don’t think any one of those guys, in their mind, gave a second thought to going in and doing what they were going to do,” said Vogt. “And I don’t think anybody who went there after the fact gave a second thought about wanting to be there and helping afterwards. I think if every 375,000 career and volunteer firemen could have been there that day ... they would have been there helping.”
Blyth said he and his family take greater care to share their love for one another now, even 17 years later.
“I never leave the house without kissing my wife goodbye and saying, ‘I love you,’” said Blyth. “My son — he’s 15 years old — calls me every night (to say) ‘love you.’ Because you don’t know when, for anybody ... when it’s your time. And you don’t want to go out with a grudge or anything you regret. You’ve got to live life.”
On Tuesday, 17 years later, Vogt and Naples suggested people think of those who lost loved ones on that day in 2001. Greene said he was striving to take what good he can from the day and move on. Jackson hoped people took a moment to respect those who perished, including the 343 firefighters.
Blyth hearkened back to that sense of togetherness and asked people to summon some bit of it on this day.
“For those people that were alive, and remember that — remember what happened, but remember what our country was after that,” said Blyth. “I hope they take that and try to get back to that. The old — we are one, we are all one.”
Fire Chief David Berardesca invited the public to speak with firefighters, hoping “to pay tribute to the emergency responders and civilians who lost their lives on 9/11 along with members of our military who have given their lives in order to protect our freedom.”
The department has done this for the past three years, according to Berardesca.