On September 11, 2001, shortly after 8:46 a.m., millions of Americans sat helpless by their television & radio sets in an attempt to make sense of a tragedy that was unfolding in New York City. American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed between the 94th & 98th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Centers, instantly killing every passenger & worker on those floors & trapping everybody above it. Constant coverage revealed a city in shock. At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashed between the 78th & 84th floors of the South Tower of the World Trade Centers on live television. Suddenly the world was aware these terrifying events were no accident. Horrified & vulnerable we sat & watched.
Despite a city submerged by fear & uncertainty - even in the earliest moments of 9/11 - hundreds of emergency workers & firefighters of the New York City Fire Department geared up & headed straight into the heart of catastrophe. EMS units & private ambulances set up triage centers for the wounded while the FDNY devised a plan for rescuing & evacuating those trapped by the fire. Video footage shows emergency workers at the ground floor of the twin towers acting without hesitation - & at times without radio communication - suppressing any emotion that had potential to prevent them from pressing forward. With no knowledge of what would soon occur & with elevators not in working order, firefighters began climbing the stairwell in full gear. No further than 78 flights had they climbed when the South Tower collapsed at 9:54 a.m. 34 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. In the end, over 400 emergency workers were killed, 343 of them firefighters & 72 of them officers. In total, almost 3,000 people lost their lives.
Sixteen years have passed since the Twin Towers were struck (along with two other hijacked planes, one that crashed into the Pentagon & another in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania). Every year, I am invited by 15-year-old me to re-experience these moments of great sadness. Sheltered & overly-comfortable in my small hometown, I was awakened to the reality of this world's potentials. I took to the only thing that made sense to me - writing. I copied news headlines in my diary & jotted sentences, coherent or not. I challenged myself to open my eyes & become engulfed in whatever was happening & though I could not understand, I clung to whatever I was feeling at the time as it became my refuge, my words gallantly navigating through the turbulence of emotion. Over the years, countless words have been used to describe what happened that day & the days following but only one describes the men & women who responded to this emergency of grand proportion: brave.
Medical experience in the Emergency Department, along with close friends & acquaintances who have chosen to remain public servants has revealed to me that there exists an entire breed of people who actively choose to risk their lives every day for the safety & wellbeing of their community. It does not escape me the blood that courses through the veins of paramedics/EMTs, nurses, firefighters, police officers, & military personnel caries with it a sickness that prevents them from ever truly becoming anything else. They seem to be addicted to pain & are guaranteed to return for more after spurts of "normalcy" with friends & family. To continue to perform a (mostly) thankless, rewardless, exhausting job with a specific skillset, level of knowledge, training, experience, certification, & licensing while maneuvering through administration, oftentimes low salaries, & an extremely diverse group of community members (some of them quite dangerous), one must truly be dedicated. On September 11, 2001, responders set out to do a job. Though unaware of what awaited them, they were prepared for anything. In this regard, there is no difference in the first responders that answered the call to the Twin Towers & the very men & women who serve our own community - every day heroes, just "doing their job".
This is my thanks.
Last month, I had the distinct honor & privilege of meeting with Officer Kevin Jones of the Glynn County Police Department & Jonathan James of the Brunswick Fire Department. Both visits were insightful in many ways but I knew I would never be able to adequately capture the sacrifices these men - along with the other men & women (& K9s) who serve our community - make on a daily basis. On September 7 of this year, I packed up my family in preparation for Hurricane Irma - at the time, a category 5 hurricane off our coast - & evacuated to safety as millions of Georgia & Florida residents did. Hundreds of local first responders stayed behind, uncertain of when they would be able to return to their homes & uncertain of the dangers that awaited them. From the safety of my refuge, I followed closely as pictures began flooding my Facebook feed of my precious coastal city of Brunswick with rising waters, fallen trees, & accrued damages from high winds. The only constant security in a time of great uncertainty was the men & women who remained. They were tasked with a job of holding our community together during an extremely unpredictable natural event & were the first ones to begin picking up the pieces when it was all over. Yesterday was the first day Fireman James was able to return to his home on St. Simons Island since before the storm hit. This is a circumstance that echoes throughout our community as first responders are slowly able to leave their exhausting positions & rest in their own beds - just in time for their next shifts.
Every day our community advances toward a sense of normalcy. As days & weeks pass, we may become complacent or forget to notice the hard work of those who will continue to pick up the pieces. If one thing is for certain, it's that this world is anything but. However, let's not forget the people who are called to be a light in the dark, the ones who remain behind when the rest of us flee, the first ones to arrive to an accident, & the last to return home. Let us never forget our very own heroes.
When I first began this project, I had a difficult time convincing Deputy Chief May of the Brunswick Fire Department (albeit indirectly) to allow his station to participate. See, I hear he's the modest, "old-school" type who is highly-regarded & respected but refuses to be called a "hero". It is said he would do anything for his men & community - I have no reason to believe otherwise. I even reached out to a few other firefighters who respectfully declined my invitation to participate in the interview process; some may find themselves too cynical, or have nothing to offer. However, I recognize the dangers these heroes are subjected to on a daily basis. You may remove your gear but you will never remove the images that have been forever burned in your mind - your burden. Never can you, even just for a moment, dismiss what you are under your uniform: a public servant. You continue, fearlessly, despite higher rates in cancer & mental illness directly related to your job. But these possible long-term effects are nothing compared to the short-term ones. I can't imagine the things you don't talk about, things you have accepted as "just doing a job." You may think what you do goes unnoticed but, to every person (& animal) who puts on their uniform day after day & walks bravely into the unknown, I see you.
Continue scrolling for more photos of our local heroes at their "every day jobs!"
-My utmost gratitude to the Brunswick Fire Department, Station 1, & the Glynn County Police Department.