Remembering a Tragic Day : An Appreciation for First Responders
September 11, 2019
By Mayor Brian M. Arrigo
The numeric reference is all we need to see. 9/11.
Or the numbers, spoken as a single hyphenated word, now a part of our vocabulary that evokes a stark and unmistakable memory: Nine-eleven.
On this 18th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American history, we are left, once again, stunned, silent, and sad. We again recall the sheer disbelief that commercial jets would be flown on purpose into buildings containing thousands of innocent people. We recall the then-incomprehensible vision of two of our nation’s most eminent structures crumbling into grisly piles of twisted steel, ash, and human remains.
Of all the awful images seared into my memory of that day, of all the gruesome scenes depicted over the years in documentaries and memorials, I remain spellbound by the sight of the firefighters and police officers, the emergency first responders, headed toward the Twin Towers, in the opposite direction of thousands of frightened, fleeing civilians.
As terrified, helpless onlookers watched flames blaze and black smoke pour out of the gaping wreckage high above New York City, the first responders arrived at the World Trade Center, and went to work, as if it was just another job to do. For them, on this worst day of their lives, it was.
In the gripping documentary by French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, we see firefighters dutifully assembling in the lobby of the World Trade Center buildings, amid the piercing scream of sirens and alarms and the sickening thud of bodies landing at the end of their plunge to escape the conflagration 90 floors above.
The firefighters, loaded with over 60 pounds of hose and equipment, discuss their plans, then clamber to the stairwells. The climb up the flights of stairs to go put out the fire and rescue survivors would take nearly two hours. Had they made it.
On that fateful morning 18 years ago, there were 2,977 victims. Among them, 343 New York City firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 New York/New Jersey Port Authority police officers who died as they tried to save people in peril. State officials count another 200 firefighters who have succumbed to illnesses arising from their work at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the attacks.
We mourn the loss of these courageous public servants. We grieve with those who lost loved ones in New York City and Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The tragedy was felt right here at home in Revere. Marianne MacFarlane, just 34-years old, was a member of the Flight crew on the ill-fated United Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower.
But we can find some measure of solace that thousands of lives were saved by the sacrifice and the heroism of first responders. They rescued civilians trapped on the 22nd floor of the North Tower. They carried the injured and the immobile to safety. As firefighters climbed up the stairs toward danger, they provided calming reassurance to those rushing down the stairs toward safety.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States declared: “It is impossible to measure how many more civilians would have died but for the determination of many members of the FDNY, PAPD, and NYPD to continue assisting civilians after the South Tower collapsed.”
The events of September 11, 2001 epitomize the importance of government’s commitment to public safety. Nine-eleven compels us never to speak of “public safety” frivolously, never to speak those words as platitude or as the point of an empty promise. The ability to respond to an emergency—any emergency—is a direct product of preparedness, and that preparedness reminds us of the true meaning of “public safety.”
- It means that police and fire departments are fully staffed to serve the public in time of need;
- It means that our first responders are educated and trained to combat the hazards of a modernized world;
- It means they are equipped with up-to-date tools and apparatus that will maximize their human efforts.
Nine-eleven reminds us that a commitment to public safety is a solemn vow to the residents of our community that we will do all that is necessary to protect their lives against harm.
It is true that a complete and ready force of first responders requires some degree of sacrifice by the taxpayers who bear the associated costs. But we must measure our own sacrifice against the sacrifice that our first responders stand ever ready to make.
Today we remember the first responders who perished on September 11, 2001. We honor all those who mobilized within minutes and took part in the largest rescue operation in the history of New York City.
And most important, we salute all those first responders who serve the public every day, ready to meet any danger in order to protect human life, and who personify the true meaning of public safety.
We express our respect for you, and pledge our resolute commitment to all that you represent.