Fire chief Matt Poole and police Chief Brandon Zuidema both still remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, after finding out both World Trade Center buildings had come down, killing hundreds of fireman, police officers and volunteers trying to save lives.
Poole of the Garner Fire Department was teaching a class of fireman at Wake Tech. The class was – by coincidence – teaching fireman how to survive an entrapment, wire entanglements and building collapses.
“It was unbelievable at the time,” Poole said of what was happening on television. “Where we emotionally got involved was when we learned how many fireman died.”
It was the deadliest incident in U.S. History for firefighters and law enforcement officers, with 343 fireman dying and 72 police officers.
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“That’s more than three or four times the size of our fire department,” said Poole, who is chief of a department with 56 paid fireman and 30 volunteers. “And to think of that, that’s something you don’t recover from.”
Even the 72 police officers who died is more than the number of officers at the Garner Police Department.
Zuidema was a lieutenant in Lynchburg, Va. at the time and saw it on the television at his police station.
“I can remember looking up at the TV and seeing what had happened and having that empty feeling, where you knew this was different and not good,” Zuidema said. “It was horrifying quite honestly.”
The town of Garner held its annual service Friday at First Baptist Church to remember that day and those service men and women who died trying to save the lives of others.
“We watched in horror that day,” Bill Hart, the keynote speaker for the event, said. “At first as we watched our TV’s we thought it had been a terrible accident. After the second flight crashed into the other tower, people began to realize this was no accident. There was something terribly wrong. We were under attack.”
Hart, Wake County Sheriff’s Office director of management services, grew up in Rochester, NY. He said he admired his father who held a full-time job, while also working as a part-time police officer and a volunteer fireman.
He said not only were there stories of the violence on television, but there were stories on television of first responders who tried to help people in danger.
“They were there to protect us, protect our way of life and our community,” Hart said. “We also thereafter all saw all of the brave young men and women who were in the military go off to fight those terrorists that had done those terrible things. Those people are a special breed of people. And the people here, the policeman, the firefighters, the first responders, you are part of that. You are a special breed of people.”
Hart said it is important to remember the people who were killed that day, and their families. Because even today, they are still grieving, he said.
“We still need all of those people today,” Hart said. “We need to always remember to be thankful for those special breed of people who are willing to risk their lives everyday for us.”