Twenty years later and not a day goes by that I don’t think about that day.
I was a fire engineer working at Fire Station 2 on the east side of town at the time. From midnight on, we had a hectically busy shift. Firefighter Tim Ortiz came quickly into the dormitory stating that I had to wake up and rush to witness what was taking place in New York. Exhausted and half asleep, I jumped out of bed, scrambled to the squad room to watch as the events of that tragic morning unfolded. As a crew, we stood there motionless, speechless and with an overwhelming awareness of our helplessness while viewing our public safety family in New York sacrificing their lives for the community they served.
I, along with every other Bakersfield firefighter, will not allow ourselves to forget that tragic day; nor should we. It is now a major part of our profession, both in the way we train and in the manner in which we look out for each other on the fireground. The firefighting family has a strong bond that stretches beyond our borders. Strength of that bond was displayed on Sept. 11, 2001, and thereafter. Firefighters from around the globe felt the pain as we grieved with our brothers and sisters of the Fire Department of the City of New York.
Bakersfield firefighters were dispatched to assist at the Pentagon by lending their expertise in the areas of logistics, rescue and recovery. The stories told and the sights observed during that operation initially appeared to be fiction, but sadly it was all too real. As with the majority of public safety occupations, it required that we plunge into another level of training and preparedness. It was no longer business as usual. A new day had arrived where the fire service was no longer specifically handling fire, emergency medical, hazardous materials, rescue and public service calls exclusively.
The Bakersfield Fire Department witnessed one additional change that very day. This change was not necessarily toward the negative, but a change that drew us closer together and more in tandem with other fire departments. We, in the fire service, became more united and connected than ever before. It created a link that reverberated throughout the world; however, it deeply permeated firefighters in how we conduct business and how we view our profession.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that at least 17,400 civilians populated the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks, meaning upwards of more than 14,000 lives were saved that day. As a firefighter, to never forget is to honor and respect the 343 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to carry out the mission of every sworn firefighter: to save lives. Never forgetting is our promise to the FDNY 343 that defines our character. Bakersfield firefighters will never forget.