A Life-Changing Experience

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Steve Thomson; Former Firefighter, Fenton Township, 9/11 Rescue & Recovery Volunteer.

When I saw the images of the Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11, I thought that with my building-collapse and enclosed-space training as a firefighter, I could help those who would be working on rescue and recovery. So, I hugged my family goodbye and headed for New York City that night.?

I made the trip alone, driving through the night. The closer I got to my destination, the more nervous I became. When I crossed the George Washington Bridge, I began to see heavily-armed checkpoints – they waved me through, welcomed me and helped unload my supplies. I was assigned to a team and we worked 18-hour days digging through piles of rubble in hopes of rescuing victims.

While executing their job duties, most first responders will set aside their emotions. It is in the aftermath of an event that we often start to allow ourselves to process everything, and it starts to slowly change your thinking. In the first few years after, I had quite a few dreams and nightmares of the event, but they have dissipated with time. I have become more cautious and aware of my surroundings and how I live my life.

Twenty years later, I can still smell the odor that I would describe as a mixture of diesel fuel and death. I can still visualize the smoke that surrounded us as we hoped we would be able to rescue at least one person from the rubble. The experience was life-changing for me in many ways; but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of the rescue effort for an event that no American will ever forget.

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