Looking back at 9/11

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Members of FDNY Ladder Company 3, located in Manhattan’s East Village, responded to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.Eleven of them, many of whom had just gone off duty after finishing their overnight shifts, entered the North Tower. When the North Tower collapsed, unit's rear mount aerial truck was damaged beyond repair, with its entire front cab destroyed.

It is a day few who were alive for forget — Sept. 11, 2001.  The Newton Kansan headline from Sept. 11, 2001 was short and to the point: U.S. attacked.

Reporters headed out into the community to get reactions as they watched television screens filled with images of the World Trade Center towers. Towers that absorbed the impact of commercial jet liners before collapsing. 

Americans watched as firefighters and first responders raced to the towers, trying to evacuate as many people as they could. Watching so many were Fire/EMS workers in Newton — including current chief Steve Roberson who was on duty when the attacks occurred. 

Just this last month Roberson came home from training with a challenge coin commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. 

Holding on to that coin, he can reflect on a visit he made about two years ago to the site — now a memorial to those lost on that fateful day. 

"That is quite hallowed ground. It is very moving to be there," Roberson said. "...  It is something that people should go and see, Especially those who were around and understand the significance of it all."

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, news broke that an airplane had crashed into on of the towers of the World Trade Center. Television news took over the broadcast airwaves, with a live view of the smoldering tower. 

"I was on duty at station one," Roberson said. "We were doing truck checks and washing vehicles and that kind of stuff. It would have been Scott Metzler (now retired), he was cleaning inside the station in living quarters there. He hollered over the radios, 'hey guys, you need to take a lookat this.'"

"This" was one of the World Trade Center towers damaged by a passenger jet, smoke billowing out of the holes created by the impact. 

The Newton Kansan headline from Sept. 11, 2001 was short and to the point: U.S. attacked

Firefighters gathered around the television, watching as their brethren responded. They began talking about how they would fight the fire if they had too. But something more unexpected was about to come. 

"We were talking about it, how terrible it was. We were trying to look at it from an educational aspect — how the fire load was affecting the building and how would we deal with this if it happened here, knowing full well we did not have a 100 story skyscraper," Roberson said. "In the middle of that conversation, the second plane hit. And then it was 'oh wow, we are going to go to war.'"

According to the 911 Memorial and Museum at  911memorial.org, on that day 19 terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes, deliberately crashing two of the planes into the upper floors of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex and a third plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

The towers would collapse, reduced to dust and rubble. 

"I remember we were watching when the first tower collapsed" Roberson said. "It was not long after that the second tower collapsed. ....  It was very somber in the station. It was almost....we had the TV on then. We finished checking our vehicles and getting our equipment for the day. Every chance we had we would check out the news. It was always on." 

After learning about the other attacks, passengers on the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93,  took control of the plan, and crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania about 20 minutes by air from Washington, D.C.

According to 911memorial.org, the attacks killed 2,977 people from 93 nations: 2,753 people were killed in New York; 184 people were killed at the Pentagon; and 40 people were killed on Flight 93.

Newton Fire/EMS stood at the ready — willing to respond if needed to the search and recovery efforts. 

But the call never came. 

"We all talked about going," Roberson said.  "But we did not, simply because they were not necessarily calling for folks and we did not want to self deploy. They were calling for specific search and rescue and tactical teams." 

The 9/11 Memorial opened on September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks. It is located on the western side of the former World Trade Center complex where the Twin Towers once stood.

The Memorial Plaza surrounds two reflecting pools set within the footprints of the North and South Towers, where the towers once stood. The pools contain 30-foot waterfalls. The water cascades into reflecting pools, finally disappearing into the center voids. The names of people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, at the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, as well as in a 1993 bombing at the trade center appear  around the edges of the pools