09/11/2001

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Rick Ryckeley

Eighteen years ago, today, two planes brought down the Twin Towers. The young men and women born that day will be celebrating their birthdays by opening presents, eating cake, and possibly enjoying a scoop or two of ice cream. Some will be furthering their academic careers as they climb steps to their first classes in college. Others will join the military, giving service to this country for years to come.

In return, they’ll receive valuable skills that will serve them the rest of their lives. The day they were born, their parents took pictures and video so they would remember the special occasion. The day was special for Yours Truly, but for a whole different reason.

Being a firefighter and on duty at the fire station at the time, I have very different memories of that day.

That morning, the Captain called four Engine crews to meet at the main station in town for training. The crews huddled around tables in the windowless training room, going over the scenario of a two-story, residential house fire with a family trapped inside.

One crew was assigned rescue, another to fire suppression, the third crew would do salvage and overhaul after the fire was extinguished, and the fourth took care of rehab. After receiving our crew’s assignment, we all stood and started for the door just as the Chief walked in. He never came to our trainings so his appearance immediately got our attention. But what happened next left us all speechless.

The Chief told us all to sit down. Something unbelievable had just happened, and we needed to see. Then he switched on the television. Unbelievable was an understatement — it was unthinkable.

A plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Our make-believe training exercise was immediately replaced with the real-life events unfolding in front of us. How would our crews fight the fires, evacuate a tower of people safely, and then perform salvage and overhaul? It was beyond any training exercise we could possibly dream up. That’s when the true nightmare happened.

We all witnessed a second plane hitting the other Twin Tower. A heavy blanket of silence fell over all of us at that moment. We all knew what was eventually going to happen. And all the training in the world could do absolutely nothing to stop it.

Due to the thermodynamics of the jet fuel burning so intensely, the structural integrity of the two towers would soon be destroyed and they would come tumbling down. And with that, there would be massive loss of life.

Not a word was said in that training room until it happened. Watching the buildings come crashing down changed me. I’ve never saw being a firefighter the same way again. None of us did. We all immediately volunteered to travel to New York to help with the search and rescue.

The next day I got off shift, went home and did something I hadn’t done since my 11th grade English class. I wrote a story. A story about how it felt that day being a firefighter and how it changed me. After reading it, The Wife suggested turning it in to our local newspaper. To my surprise, they published it on the front page.

That was eighteen years and 936 weekly stories ago. Many have been Hallmark-type stories from those seven magical years my three brothers, The Sister, and I spent growing up. But through the years, this column has become much more than just adventures and misadventures from that magical time we called childhood.

I’ve been afforded the unique opportunity to write about any subject. To write about things that are meaningful in life and family – like the 9/11 story. No story has ever been cut due to its length or added onto due to its brevity. I’m thankful for that rare gift. The gift of creative freedom, and I have tried to be true to it.

Thank you, Cal Beverly, for making space for my column to reach so many here each week. And thank you, Dear Readers. He offered me the spot so many years ago, but it’s you that continue reading my stories – my observations about life, family and the things that are so important to all of us. And, of course, those stories from growing up a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

Lastly but always first, thanks to The Wife. For it was she who had faith in me before all others, urging me to submit that first story. Without her, the last eighteen years wouldn’t have happened. I will forever be thankful for her guidance, love and honesty.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]