Firefighters Fight On
New York Fire Department Prepared for the Future
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"We've always had good camaraderie," says Manley, who was at Ground Zero when the towers collapsed. "But it became reinforced even more since 9/11. Everybody's gotten closer now. We do everything together."
Although a year has passed since that dark day in American history, the memories are still fresh for the brave men and women who rushed to lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11. Many, like Marc Sommer, say the loss of so many comrades has left them feeling empty. He says it helps to know they can rely on each other for support.
"We try to be there for each other, for guys who you feel need an ear to get things off their chest," says the 54-year-old firefighter with Engine Company 5 in New York City.
Sommer and his fellow firefighters have also sought comfort in the countless letters that poured in — and still pour in — to firehouses across the city. The cards from kids have been especially touching, says Manley.
"The letters we've received from school children, from first grade all the way up, have been phenomenal," says Manley. "They were really uplifting."
Closer to home, the city's firefighters have been touched by the generous support they've received from their neighbors. "After September 11, people showed up with candles and held prayer vigils in front of our firehouse," says Manley. "Even now, the community acknowledges us as we ride through the streets. They'll wave to us, tell us, 'Good job.'"
Despite all the well-wishes and honors, the firefighters of New York City still have a job to do — a job they now approach with more caution.
"The World Trade Center is in the back of our minds," says Sommer. "It's never going to leave you. It just shows you how dangerous this job can be. You can't take any building or any fire for granted."
In recent months, firefighters have attended terrorist-awareness classes. There, they have learned how to respond to nuclear, chemical, and biological threats. They will receive more advanced training in the future.
"The training prepares us to react wisely to whatever situation," says 38-year-old John Napolitano of Company Engine 5. "They teach us tactics, how to react to terrorist maneuvers, how to evacuate places, what type of equipment to wear."
Yet with all the dangers that come with the job, firefighters like Tom Manley refuse to retire. After 22 years on the force, there is still work to be done, he says, especially in the wake of September 11.
"The fire department lives on, and it will move forward," says Manley. "We will deal with our losses as best we can. We will make sure that our firemen didn't die in vain so that we don't get hit with the mass devastation we did on September 11."
In the end, it's their sense of duty that keeps New York's bravest on the job.
"Whether it's a little boy or an old lady, whoever it is, we're here for them," says Sommer. "Firefighters will never leave the city unprotected."