Emergency responders reflect on Sept. 11

Published 9:34 am Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Few can forget the Sept. 11, 2001, photographs and video footage of New York City. There firefighters and other emergency services personnel who rushed into the World Trade Center to rescue people caught in the explosion and fire from the airplanes that hit those buildings, only to find themselves victims seconds later when the buildings they raced into crumbled around them.

Sept. 11, 2001 changed life as we know it. It changed particularly for emergency responders not only in New York City, but all over the country.

“I realized then that we were attacked by a foreign nation and we were fighting a war— not with a gun, but with a fire hose,” Chesapeake Fire Chief Ed Webb recalled of the firefighters who lined up at the twin towers, at The Pentagon and in Pennsylvania at the site of the crash of Flight 93.

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Lawrence County EMS Supervisor Earl “Buddy” Fry was a field supervisor for the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services (SEOEMS) at the time of the terrorist attacks.

“I was on my way up State Route 7 and was listening to John Boy and Billy (radio show) and they came on and said a small plane had accidentally hit the World Trade Center and I thought, ‘that can’t be right. You don’t accidentally hit the World Trade Center,’” Fry recalled. He later discovered, along with the rest of America, what happened was no accident.

SEOEMS had an ambulance on standby to send to a larger city if it was needed. That call, fortunately, never came, but Fry recalled that local responders were willing to help however they could, whereever they could, if they were called.

Like everyone else in America, Webb said he watched the days and weeks of live coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He then realized what happened there would affect what the country did here and how emergency responders would perform their jobs in the future.

Elizabeth Township Fire Chief Dale Waugh said watching the twin towers collapse around emergency responders changed his own outlook on firefighting, even though Lawrence County is thousands of miles away from New York City.

“We’re more cautious of approaching fires, we’re more alert,” Waugh said.

Fry agreed.

“I think we’re a lot more suspicious of anything out of the ordinary,” Fry said. “ (We’re) more aware of what’s going on.”

The aftermath of Sept. 11 sometimes opened federal purses for small town and rural emergency agencies.

“We now get training through Homeland Security,” Webb noted. “I went through a week-long program after 9-11. Even if it was done before, this was far more intense.”

“We got federal money for bullet proof vests for our tactical team, money for things like radio systems,” Fry said. “We needed the money; these things were expensive.”

Even without grants, small departments were required to enhance their preparedness on their own dime. Sept. 11 brought new needs and new requirements to budgets already straining from mandates.

“We’re trying to meet the standards they’re putting down but we have to do it often with limited budgets,” Waugh said.

Webb said remembering that day brings back all the emotions he felt watching the horror in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

“Hopefully it won’t happen again, he said, “but if it does, we’ll be there. It’s a brotherhood, whether it’s firefighters or military or EMS. We’re all brothers.”