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September 10, 2011

Kansas remembers 9/11: The firefighters

The people featured in this package suffered personal loss from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, endured fallout from them, or worked in fields that evolved in a world changed by them. Their stories, shared with Eagle reporter Fred Mann, are presented here in their own words.

Sedgwick County firefighter John Troyer and Wichita firefighter Tod Newlin talk about 9/11 and about being in New York City nine days after the attacks to help at fire stations.

Troyer, who was testing candidates for the department when the attacks started: "We turned on the news. It was just surreal. It seemed like something out of a movie, until it started to sink in.

"We're standing there looking at the pictures of the World Trade Center with the smoke coming out and realizing how many firefighters were going in there to pull people out. We realized it was hundreds of our brothers and sisters going in there to rescue people."

Newlin: "It was my day off. I was staying at home with my 3-year-old son. We're watching ... and I'm thinking, 'These guys have got their work cut out for them today. These guys are going to be there a long time.' "

Troyer: "I wanted to get a job on the pile. Once we got checked in, we all went down to see the site. But there were 22 command posts, and by this time they were tired of volunteers showing up. After five or six hours going from one place to another, everybody realized it wasn't going to happen."

Newlin: "We knew we couldn't get to ground zero, so we would go to stations and ask, 'What can we do for you guys?' Every fire station had memorials in front, pictures of guys that were lost or missing. Nobody was dead yet, they were still missing. All these flowers and candles, that sticks in my mind so much. Three o'clock in the morning, there were still New York firefighters standing in front of their station. Once they found out you were a firefighter, they were happy to talk to you."

Troyer: "We walked to this one fire house. They said, 'Almost all of our people are working at ground zero, and the ones that aren't at ground zero are still in the fire station. Everybody's got a job to do. We don't have enough people to go to memorial services. If you want to help out, start going to these memorial services and funerals.' That's what we ended up spending the rest of our time doing.

"It's an honor to show your support. Even though we weren't a member of that particular fire department, it's all one big family."

Newlin: "We were at a fire station near ground zero. A lot of firefighters were hanging out there on breaks, so we started talking to them. One guy said, 'I've got six brothers in there.'

"You talk to them, you hug them. You can't do anything but talk. A lot of times they were cool with that. They could vent a little bit. You found out later that was the biggest help ever."

Troyer: "The group I ended up talking to, their only job was to take a stretcher whenever they found firefighter remains, load the remains in a bag, cover them with a flag and carry them out. They weren't finding a lot of other people. The reason they were finding firefighters was because of the gear and protective equipment they had on."

Newlin: "You were humbled. You were sad. You were patriotic. It was probably the most humbling thing ever."

Troyer: "You always think of New York as this really tough place. Cars would stop in the middle of Fifth Avenue and they'd pile out and start clapping for us. We'd walk by an outdoor cafe, and they'd see a group of firefighters walk by and they'd just open up with a standing ovation.

"We were getting the admiration that was paid for by the blood of 343 New York City firefighters. We were viewed as heroes after that. But we were no more a hero on September 12 than we were on September 10.

"People saw we are the front lines. People didn't really realize that.

"But we're just doing our job. And that's what every one of those guys were doing when they ran into those towers. They were trying to help another human being."

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