"I do not know of any other profession where the brotherhood and a sense of family are more displayed than in firefighting. As a firefighter, visit any fire department worldwide and once announced that you are a professional firefighter, the welcome in the brotherhood is obvious."
On a Sunday afternoon in the mid-'70s, as the fire company officer at the city of Merced main fire station at 18th and M streets, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow professional firefighter by the name of Richard Sloan, a deputy fire chief with the city of New York fire department.
After introducing him to the remainder of the on-duty crew and taking him on a cook's tour of the facilities, the main reason for his visit was firmly established: He was visiting his daughter, who at that time lived in Merced. But Richard wanted to see the antique Merced fire engine parked in the apparatus bay visible from M Street.
His interest in the antique fire engine related to the fact that as a new firefighter, he was assigned to a prototype of our 1919 American La France antique. Once it was identified that the 1919 engine was operational, and with an offer to take him for a ride, a solid friendship was established.
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Over the next several years and before his retirement, I visited him several times in New York, where I met numerous fellow firefighters. We also exchanged operational bulletins, and we shared and discussed professional publications and issues. We did this never thinking that Sept. 11, 2001, would play such an important role and affect our lives and those of fellow brother firefighters nationwide.
I turned on the television the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and the live coverage of the crash of an airliner into the north tower of the World Trade Center dominated the networks. My initial thoughts were of the crash of a B-25 bomber into the Empire State Building several years earlier, on a cloudy overcast day in New York. This day in New York, however, showed a clear blue sky with 10-plus-mile visibility.
I thought about firefighters I'd met in New York. Were fire units that I had ridden on and were fire department personnel I knew being dispatched and responding? Truck 10, across the street from the Trade Center towers, and Engine 23 in midtown, were certainly on the first alarm assignment.
While I watched in disbelief, the approach and crash of the second airliner into the south tower quickly supported my thinking that this wasn't an accident, but an attack on America -- a fact reaffirmed with the airliner crash into the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
As events of the day unfolded, the city of Merced Executive Management Team was assembled in the city Emergency Operations Center to share information, review the city emergency plan and establish emergency operational plans for next few days. Over the next several days and weeks, we reviewed and shared updates -- all with the objective of being prepared for other terrorist events that could hit America.
By the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, extensive details had been shared and operational policies reviewed and adjusted. Names of the dead and injured had been published. My friend Chief Sloan survived, but several individuals I'd met during my visits and while responding to incidents in New York did not.
People I'd met were only a fraction of the FDNY staff that Chief Sloan knew and worked with, including the then-chief of department, who was killed that day. With facts established and damage figures documented, numerous memorials services, parades and other activities were held to remember and honor the victims and observe the tragedy of this murderous event.
With the tenth anniversary upon us, we ponder what has changed as a result. Policies have been changed, new procedures and government organizations established, and memorials erected around the nation, honoring not only firefighters, but public-safety personnel and civilians murdered that day. Today, with numerous events at ground zero and around the nation, our thoughts are once again focused on Sept. 11, 2001. There are flag decals displayed on fire apparatus nationwide to remember the events and victims of that day. We reinforce the brotherhood and family spirit within the fire service with the phrase NEVER FORGOTTEN.
Kenneth W. Mitten is the retired fire chief of the Merced City Fire Department.