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Feature - The tragedy of a job well done

Whistler fire fighters honour their New York brothers and sisters who died in the line of duty



It’s almost a year later and still there is no official death toll for the World Trade Center towers. It is thought to be approximately 2,843, based on missing persons reports and reports of foreign nationals that did not come home as expected. As of February, investigators had only positively identified the remains of 711 of those victims.

One thing is certain, however – the Sept. 11 death toll would have been far greater without the help of the Fire Department of New York and other emergency service personnel. They have been credited with saving thousands of lives by restoring some order to the evacuation of the buildings and helping people overcome by smoke and fear reach the safety of the streets. The first people to evacuate the towers encountered firefighters more than 40 stories up, as they climbed the stairwells to help the evacuees and get closer to the fire.

The first airplane, Flight 11, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre at 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time. The first fire truck reached the scene less than five minutes later. About 17 minutes afterwards, Flight 175 crashed into the south tower.

The first fire truck arrived at the scene at around 8:50 a.m. By 9:40 a.m. more than 50 firefighter companies were at the scene.

The south tower collapsed at about 10:05 a.m. The north tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m.

The firefighters did what they could, and were still helping with the evacuation of both towers when they collapsed into themselves, blanketing the city in a cloud of toxic black dust.

While investigators can’t say with absolute certainty how many civilians died in the World Trade Center attacks that morning, the firefighters knew exactly how many were lost in the line of duty – 343 men.

It was the biggest single loss of life by emergency services in American history, and more than have ever been lost anywhere in the world at one place at one time. The loss was felt acutely by family members, friends, and by people far and wide who recognized the sacrifice these firefighters had made. They were truly the heroes of Sept. 11.

This sacrifice has since been honoured around the world by firefighters who have the same duties and responsibilities as those who died, fulfilling their oath to protect the public and stand by one another.

For the weeks and months after the initial terrorist attack, representatives from fire departments around the world sent representatives to New York to bring what money they raised and to pitch in where they could. Some aided the New York firefighters in searching through the wreckage for victims and lost comrades. Some attended funerals and were part of honour guards, taking on ceremonial roles that were required that local firefighters didn’t have the time to attend – there were funerals almost every day, and many were putting in one full shift at Ground Zero followed by another full shift on duty.

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