9/11 reverberates 20 years later

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

First responders recall efforts in aftermath of attacks

Beacon Hose Co. No. 1’s Joe Chew, center, and Bill Gavrish, right, hand supplies to a New York police officer near Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 12, 2001. –CONTRIBUTED

Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the images and smells from Ground Zero are still fresh in the minds of local first responders who trekked to New York City to help any way they could.

“It looked like a post-apocalyptic scene from a movie,” said Jeremy Rodorigo, a volunteer firefighter and EMT with Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 in Beacon Falls.

Rodorigo and former Beacon Hose Fire Chief Douglas Bousquet were part of a seven-person crew from the volunteer department that loaded up an ambulance and the fire chief’s truck with donated supplies and food, and headed to Ground Zero on Sept. 12, 2001 — a day after terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Heavily armed police, SWAT and National Guard units were posted at every exit as the Beacon Hose crew got closer to Ground Zero, recalled Bousquet, who described the scene as unbelievable and breathtaking. The crew ended up parking one block from the World Trade Center.

“The fire trucks that were first in were demolished. Cop cars,” Bousquet recalled. “Nothing left of those trucks.”

The seven Beacon Hose members waded through 6 inches of concrete dust and debris to pass out supplies to fellow first responders at Ground Zero. Rodorigo said the gloves the first responders were using were worn down and some didn’t have any.

“We all took boxes and literally handed it to people who needed it. It was very well received,” Rodorigo said. “To give them something new was good, it was really appreciated it.”

The one image that remains with Rodorigo to this day is of a little old lady walking through the debris handing out coffee and donuts.

Rescue workers scramble to evacuate the area near Ground Zero in New York City after air horns warned of an impending collapse on Sept. 12, 2001. –CONTRIBUTED

“To her, she needed to be there and she needed to do that,” Rodorigo said. “It was bizarre to me, but I appreciate it.”

As the crew was handing out supplies sirens went off, Bousquet recalled. Everybody just stopped what they were doing and ran, he said, as part of the American Express building collapsed.

For a couple of hours, the Beacon Hose members didn’t know where everyone from their crew was or their status, Rodorigo said. Everyone ended up being OK.

“It’s something I never want to see ever again in my life,” Bousquet said about the scene at Ground Zero.

Mark Goletz who volunteered with the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department in 2001 and is a career firefighter in Fairfield, headed to Ground Zero the day of the attacks, but was sent back because first responders didn’t know what to do with all the extra people. He returned two days later with about 25 Fairfield firefighters to help dig through the rubble.

Ash, paper and other debris cover a street near Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 12, 2001. –CONTRIBUTED

“I couldn’t believe how all the buildings in the area were damaged,” Goletz said.

“The smell of the dust was real bad,” he added.

Goletz recalled a deserted restaurant with breakfast dishes still on many of the tables. It was as if everything was frozen in time, he said.

Goletz said he felt a lot of anger and confusion at the time since many people didn’t know exactly what happened or had not heard of the terrorist group behind the attack, Al Qaeda.

“Nobody knew who or what could’ve done this,” Goletz said.

Former Naugatuck firefighter Richard Alfes, who is a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Massachusetts Task Force, said he and other members of the task force went to Ground Zero the night of 9/11. They spent the next nine straight days going through the rubble and what was left of the buildings.

Alfes said first responders often found pieces of bodies in the rubble.

“The fires burned out of control. FDNY pumped water out of the Hudson River,” said Alfes, noting there were no working sprinklers in the area because the water mains were severed by falling debris.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Those who worked at scene said the unity the country showed in the days and months after the attacks is now gone.

Firefighters regroup near the Fire Department of New York’s Squad 252 apparatus, which had been damaged when the Twin Towers collapsed, near Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 12, 2001. –CONTRIBUTED

“It makes me sad because the country was so united at the time and now it’s so divisive,” Goletz said. “That’s what sticks out.”

Beacon Hose members painted an American flag on the firehouse, and flags were on everybody’s houses and cars after the attack, Bousquet recalled. Two decades later, he said, it seems like many people forgot what happened.

“To see now what’s going on in our world, it makes me sad. Some people forgot. I will never forget until the day I die,” Bousquet said. “We need to get the flags swinging again.”

Alfes said that the country is still fighting terrorism and expressed concern that the country could be attacked again.

“We got a lot of crazy things going on in this country. There’s a lot of people that hate us as a populace. They mean us harm,” Alfes said. “This is going to happen again. That worries me.”