Ladder Company One of the New York Fire Department is among the closest to Ground Zero, the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. On the morning of September 11, 2001, one of its members was checking a possible gas leak in the city streets. The routine task was recorded by a French film crew as part of a documentary about the company. Coincidentally, they recorded the first plane striking the World Trade Center and also the very first reaction to the event.
The first known reaction to the September 11th attacks was recorded by a French film crew documenting a life at Ladder Company One.
It was an expletive uttered in disbelief by Steven Olsen. He related that moment to VOA. "At that point I didn't know for sure that it was a terrorist attack, but I knew something was wrong, because there was nothing wrong with the plane, and it flew right in there. The more I thought about it, then I realized we're under attack," he said.
By the time the second plane hit, Olsen says he was in the North Tower pulling people out the building. He said the building began to shake violently, throwing people around like rag dolls with hurricane force winds and extreme heat.
Ladder Company One did not lose any firefighters on September 11th, but Olsen says many of the firefighters are coming down with cancer, possibly in connection with subsequent recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
"We're trying to keep on top of our health, trying to make sure that we're going to be all right. But it's scary; we're almost like sitting here waiting our turn to see who's going to be sick next," he said.
Olsen says he saw a lot of disturbing things that day - people jumping from the towers, piles of bodies and other horrors that haunt him to this day. "For me, I'm still living the raw ugliness; I live it almost every day. I have flashbacks, bad dreams. I can't sleep at night. I'm always anxious. It hasn't stopped for me," he said.
New firefighters at Ladder Company One have replaced most of those who worked there nine years ago. On this, the Ninth anniversary, they remembered those who died. Station Chief Michael Vindigni recalled a Biblical Psalm during a ceremony at the station.
"My help comes from the maker of heaven and earth. We believe that the Almighty asks us to be human helpers with Him as we seek to make this a better world for all people," he said.
New York City firefighters are closely associated with the attacks, as witnesses and participants in history. More than three hundred twenty five firefighters and paramedics gave their lives that day and others continue to suffer various the physical and emotional consequences. But they say they all remain committed to making the world a better place.