The day began with a single American Airlines passenger plane
diving into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York
City. Soon after, a second plane would follow suit into the south
tower. The complete destruction of those towers and surroundings in
the city, plus the loss of life, was overwhelming.
But as the morning passed, Americans would learn that it had been
only one target in a multifaceted assault on this country. As news
came that the Pentagon had been similarly hit and that another plane
on an additional mission had failed due to the heroic measures of
the passengers, this country -- the entire world -- sat in stunned
silence, but only for a moment.
America was not paralyzed as terrorists had hoped it would be.
Instead it was unified and mobilized into action as across the
country, those who could went to the aid of those who were lost or
hurting, and those who could not went to their knees and prayed.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Miller was an assistant chief with the
Lincoln Fire Department and an instructor at Richland Community
College, training young adults to become firefighters.
On that particular day, he wasn't on duty, nor was he teaching. He
was at home, enjoying a day off, when the phone rang early in the
"It was my father-in-law. He said, 'Something's going on in New
York. You need to turn on your TV.'"
The call came early in the event, and like millions of other
Americans, Miller was in front of the television when the second
plane hit the south tower. He remembers that he watched in shock and
in awe of the scene.
He also remembered a class he'd taken as a firefighter when the
topic of the World Trade Center came up. In that class the
instructor had told his students that the World Trade Center was
built to stand. No one ever expected that the towers would collapse
the way they did.
As the day progressed, news continued to come forward about the
events taking place in the East. The attack on the Pentagon, the
crash of a flight in Pennsylvania -- it was all being talked about
as quickly as reporters could organize the information.
As the day progressed, television crews moved in closer to the scene
in New York, and from there comes the indelible memory that Miller
will carry with him for the rest of his life.
It wasn't a picture, or a reporter, but rather a sound. A sound that
only a trained firefighter would understand the significance of.
Incorporated into the breathing apparatus that firefighters wear
inside burning buildings, there is an alarm system called a PASS
alarm, meaning a Personal Alert Safety System. The PASS contains a
motion sensor that will sound a distinctive alarm when a firefighter
stops moving for a period of 15 to 30 seconds.
When a firefighter is in trouble, the alarm will sound, giving
fellow firefighters the opportunity to locate the fallen and offer
help as needed.
Miller on the day of Sept. 11 watched the television. As camera
crews moved closer and closer, "I could hear the alarms," he said,
then paused only for a second, "and I knew, men were down."
In any fire, there is a possibility of firefighters getting lost or
confused about where they are. Buildings on fire are obviously
filled with smoke. Items that should look familiar become alien
objects as firefighters try to get through a burning building.
Miller said he could imagine the amount of confusion that occurred
when the towers began to crumble. With so many firefighters and
civilians still inside, it would have been chaos, and the urgency to
find not only innocent civilians but also fallen firefighters would
have been overwhelming.
As Miller talked this week about his memories of 9/11, he talked
about the special kinship between firefighters. There is a sense of
family that exceeds geography.
He emphasized that thousands of lives were lost on Sept. 11, and no
one wants to diminish that fact in any way, but for firefighters
across America, they took this attack very personally.
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"When people are overseas in the military, they expect that
they will be attacked. Here in America, I don't think anyone
ever expected that our first responders would be part of such an
attack. I think that is why we (firefighters) claim this as
ours," Miller said.
In New York City, 343 firefighters died on Sept. 11. In
addition, there were thousands of innocent people who were doing
nothing more than trying to go about their ordinary lives. There
were also police officers and emergency medical technicians who
gave more than they should have had to -- their lives -- at the
hands of terrorists who wanted nothing more than to kill
Americans in quantity.
Around the nation, in the days following Sept. 11, firefighters
made their way to New York. They went to help with the cleanup,
to try to fill gaps in departments left by lost souls, and to be
there as an act of solidarity for the departments and the
families of those who perished.
Hundreds of firefighters, including several from Lincoln and
Logan County, also traveled to New York for memorial services.
Miller wasn't able to go for the memorials, but three months
after the attacks he and a good friend and fellow firefighter
from Decatur, Toby Jackson, drove to New York and spent a week
with their comrades.
They were assigned to work in the lower Manhattan area, which
was close to ground zero. They spent time with Engine 23,
stationed right off of Central Park, and they spent time with
Rescue 1 in the same vicinity.
Miller remembers going to ground zero.
"We went to the site and it was just dirt and debris. There were
trucks hauling away the debris, and it was just truck after
truck after truck. The streets were torn up, buildings around
the area were damaged. It was like an earthquake."
also recalled that as they went from area to area, there didn't seem
to be very many firefighters who were willing to talk about what had
happened. The reason for that, he believes, is because for a large
majority of those who did survive, it was because they were not on
duty that day and not standing with their fellow firefighters when
While he was in New York, Miller took a special helmet with him and
collected signatures from various units. In an accompanying story,
he talks about the helmet and the good it did for the family of a
When tragedy strikes, regardless of its form, for most of us to go
on with any kind of normalcy, we have to be able to find a good that
comes out of it.
Miller said he felt like the Lincoln Fire Department found that
good, because it made them all more aware of the risks they take
when they respond to a fire. It brought the department together,
making their bond stronger and reminding them to always look out for
In the story of the 9/11 helmet, you'll see firsthand an example of
that bond and that selflessness in the local department.
How a special post-9/11 helmet memorializes a local firefighter
[Copied from LDN archives 09/10/2011]