(WEHT) – It’s been two years since we were there. We listened to the water, looked down at the names of those almost 3,000 souls we lost. Names inscribed on the rims of the reflecting pools above the footprints of the towers.
My colleague John Simpson and I looked and found the name of Stacey Lynn Peak, a young Tri-State woman yet to enter her prime. She was at work in her North Tower office when the planes hit.
“I cried. To be able to visualize something through television is one aspect, but standing there in front of the pile and it dwarfs you by hundreds and hundreds of feet of debris and you’re looking up at that and knowing that there are human remains in there, when I arrived three weeks later there was no rescue, this was about recovery.”
John Buckman is a former German Township fire chief in the middle of decades of service. He found himself at ground zero, also known as the hole to emergency responders who would face the heartbreaking task of finding remnants of people who did not make it out of the towers in time. In the wake of the atrocity, Firefighters like Buckman had a daunting mission.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in the hole. It’s all those people talking to you at the same time, telling you their life story and what you’re trying to learn from being in that hole. The experience of being in the hole is emotional, it’s mentally traumatic and it’s physically traumatic. It impacts your whole human body.”
People ran from the huge sickening plume that followed. But firefighters and other first responders headed directly into the center of the hell on earth.
“The public realizes that the firefighters are more than just firefighters. They are courageous individuals who will do whatever it takes to save a human life. Even if many people would think climbing a hundred and some odd stories to try to rescue people is not a good idea, those firefighters were attempting to do that.”
Buckman would later testify before Congress, he was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs during those very troubled times.
“In our initial operations at the scene, we weren’t really concerned about the air. As time went on, we became more and more concerned about the quality of air because we had all these people who that were breathing the air and some of them were becoming sick even a month into the incident.”
He called for major safety reforms and protocol to give his brothers and sisters who survived but lived with emotional and real pain.
“There are many firefighters who are still suffering the after effects of September 11 and their experience working in the World Trade Center recovery effort.”
John Buckman often looks down on a much smaller memorial in front of his fire station, tucked into the nooks and crannies of the countryside. Dedicated to those who had no time to prepare to save lives.
“When Commissioner Thomas von Essen of the Fire Department in New York is telling me about some of the friends that he lost, I cried for his loss.”
343 men and women rushed to those towers that once stood where the waters now provide solace. Firefighters who did not come home that day. They are not forgotten.