Monday is the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which remains one of the most traumatic national events in America's history. The attacks themselves directly killed 2,977 people, and an additional 1,000 people died later from illnesses related to the attacks. Moments after the towers fell, tens of thousands of firefighters and police officers, as well as everyday citizens who happened to be in the area, fled to the scene to help survivors and rescue as many folks as they could from the wreckage. In honor of their sacrifice, here's what some 9/11 first responders are doing today.
Unfortunately, many first responders are no longer with us. On the day of the attacks themselves, 414 first responders lost their lives, and since then, an estimated 1,400 additional first responders have passed away due to health problems they incurred while attempting to find survivors. Around 2,000 responders who did survive sustained injuries, and in total, at least 60,000 of them were exposed to highly toxic dust while assisting after the attacks.
Many first responders them have gone on to do even more good since that fateful day. Here are a few of their stories.
Paying Tribute To 9/11 Victims
On Saturday, over 500 first responders in full fire gear climbed the Renaissance Tower in Dallas, Texas. Each one of them held a picture of a first responder who had died during the attacks, and as they reached the top, they rang a bell to honor the victim they were representing.
“I just think, 'there’s somebody at the top I’m trying to get to' — that’s the only thing that keeps me going, because it hurts,” Officer Jerry Ramsey of the Longview Police Department told FOX 4. “I just want them to know we will not forget and we appreciate what they did and the sacrifices they made.”
Helping Out After Other Disasters
After September 11, firefighter and first responder Alfredo Fuentes founded the Patriot Group, an organization that helps emergency personnel who've responded to other disasters. After Hurricane Katrina, Fuentes and several other retired firefighters traveled to New Orleans to counsel the hurricane's first responders. Fuentes also received a degree in Homeland Security at the University of Connecticut in 2009.
Giving Motivational Speeches
First responder Joe Torrillo was buried alive under concrete and steel after the World Trade Center fell in 2001. Amazingly, he survived, and he now gives motivational speeches to children about the importance of dedication, hard work, optimism and treating everybody the same regardless of gender or ethnicity.
In 2013, Torrillo — along with the aforementioned Fuentes — also testified against alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at a courtroom in Guantanamo Bay.
Spending Time With Military Veterans
Firefighter Robert Reeg had his chest crushed and both meniscuses torn as the south tower fell on September 11, and he later developed a staph infection during his recovery process. After healing, Reeg began visiting special needs children in Orange County, and now regularly spends time with U.S. military veterans.
"You see Marines with no knees and you see a young woman disfigured from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan," Reeg told the Journal News. "My situation isn’t so bad, I’m lucky."
Helping Each Other
Construction supervisor John Feal helped clear out debris in the aftermath the September 11tattacks. While doing so, an 8,000-pound steel beam fell onto his foot, obliterating half of it and giving him near-fatal gangrene. The timing of the injury itself — 120 hours after the attacks — meant that he wasn't eligible for the first victims' compensation fund, and so he started the FealGood foundation to help other first 9/11 responders get health insurance and benefits to help them in their recovery process.
"When you're in the position to help somebody, when you have power, you have a responsibility to help those less fortunate. That is the moral code in life," Feal told Yahoo! News. "Your moral compass either points south and doesn't give a rat's ass about anybody. Or it points north, and you want to complete yourself as a better person and help as many people as you
John Norman was deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department on September 11, and he was in charge of the search operation after the towers fell. Since then, he's written the Fire Officer's Handbook of Tactics, and in 2016, was inducted into the Firehouse Hall of Fame.
Dennis Smith wrote a column in the New York Times about his horrific experiences as a 9/11 first responder. In the years since, he started WavePeg, a Pinterest-esque social media network that focuses on connecting members of specific industries, such as firefighting and nursing.
Although the attacks of September 11 were a catastrophic on an almost unthinkable scale, thousands of folks rose to the occasion in response, saving lives and exhibiting some of the best qualities of humanity. The 9/11 first responders and the sacrifices they made will always be a bright shining spot in what was otherwise a dark day for America.