How many more lives would have been lost if not for the brave efforts of the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel, and other rescue workers who rushed to the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Defying even human instinct, they raced in the doors and up the stairs of blazing buildings that thou sands of others were fleeing. Because of their unmatched courage, many people today are survivors, not statistics.
But the uniformed services suffered grievous losses of their own. The New York Fire Department, especially, was horrendously wounded, losing 343 firefighters in the World Trade Center disaster (previously the largest single department loss was 12). The list of those who perished included some of the NYFD's most illustrious names: Chief of Department Peter Ganci, First Deputy Fire Commissioner William Feehan, Chief of Special Operations Ray Downey, and chaplain Father Mychal Judge. Ganci, who ordered his men north when the first tower collapsed, was last seen heading south, directly into danger, when he was trapped in the collapse of the second tower. Feehan, who was 71, was on the scene conferring with Mayor Giuliani at the Fire Department Command Post shortly before he died; Downey was New York City's most decorated firefighter and nicknamed "God" by his troops. Father Judge, known for his devotion to firemen and their families (and for his sense of humor), was killed by falling debris as he bent over to give last rites to a dying firefighter.
Then there were others, like Timothy Stackpole, who while not among the highest ranking, were nonetheless heroes within the department. Stackpole, seriously injured in a building collapse at a fire three years ago, had only recently recovered enough to return to work—something he was determined to do despite the fact he could have retired on a substantial pension. In the words of Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, "he died doing what he wanted to do."
The magnitude of the NYFD loss, reflected in the makeshift shrines—with flowers, candles, photos, and children's drawings—that spontaneously sprang up in front of every New York fire station, should not overshadow the heroism of scores of other uniformed personnel. The New York Police Department lost 23 officers. President Bush, in a speech to the nation September 20, proudly displayed the badge of George Howard, an officer with the Port Authority of New York, which lost 37 officers. Howard, who was on his day off September 11, raced to the World Trade Center when he heard the news and died while helping people escape from the north tower. Three days later, his mother met Bush and gave him her son's shield.
Ambulance and Emergency Medical Service workers also perished as they rushed to do what they were trained for: save the lives of others. One doctor at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital initially estimated that facility alone lost seven ambulances at the scene.
In Washington, when the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked plane, the heroic response was no different. Members of the Defense Protective Service, also known as the Pentagon Police, were among those rushing to the burning crash site. One, Sgt. William Lagasse, was at a filling station when he saw the low flying plane heading directly for its target. Grabbing a medical bag, he sped to the scene and immediately began pulling survivors from the rubble. Officer Isaac Hoopii, who dashed to the Pentagon from his veterinarian's office, was credited with saving lives by calling down blackened corridors for survivors to follow the sound of his voice.
There are almost no words to describe the heroism of September 11. But Bill Clinton had a few when he appeared at the Concert for New York in Madison Square Garden last October. Holding firefighter Ray Downey's hat, he referred to the fact Osama bin Laden and his associates supposedly watch Americans on television. "I hope they saw this tonight," he said. "Because they thought America was about money and power and that if they took down the World Trade Center we would collapse. But we are not about mountains of money and towers of steel. We are about mountains of courage and hearts of steel."
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