By Jay Shaw
Sept. 11, 2011, New York City - This morning we celebrated the lives of the 343 in a ceremony outside Riverside Park on the shores of the Hudson River. The FDNY members graciously thanked us before moving into a closed event for their members only. Today, we saw the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom and democracy, which on this day seems very fitting.
By Jay Shaw
Editor’s note: Winnipeg firefighter Jay Shaw, a regular contributor to Fire Fighting in Canada, is in New York City for the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Jay and his travel companions, Winnipeg firefighter Phil Kennedy and Calgary firefighter Darren Tomczak, will check in regularly.
Sept. 11, 2011, New York City – This morning we celebrated the lives of the 343 in a ceremony outside Riverside Park on the shores of the Hudson River. The FDNY members graciously thanked us before moving into a closed event for their members only. Today, we saw the statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom and democracy, which on this day seems very fitting.
It has been an unforgettable night with many celebrations and events at almost every bar, church, and public open space. We have not slept much, and pushed through until this afternoon when we hoped to get some sleep and get ready for tonight.
There were rumors that upward of 50 firefighters from the U.S. Midwest were arriving on the first train at Grand Central Station, so many of us wanted to greet them and celebrate their arrival. There are so many fire, police and EMS service members in Manhattan that stories of where everyone’s whereabouts are hard to decipher as truth or rumor. No firefighters arrived on the first train in, and at first we were disappointed, however a miraculous chance meeting changed my life forever.
As we walked up the stairs to leave, we were identified by our Winnipeg and Calgary fire T- shirts by a middle aged couple who asked if we were on the job. The man reached for my hand, and as we shook, he told me he and his wife were here to read the name of their son – who died on 9-11 – at the memorial. Mr. and Mrs. Crowther lost their son, Welles, in the South Tower collapse 10 years ago today. Welles, a volunteer firefighter in Nyack, N.Y., worked on the 102nd storey of the south tower.
Welles’s parents told a story of heroism that has been put together from survivor accounts of Welles’s actions that day. Welles Crowther entered the south tower stairwell no less than three times and is directly responsible for saving the lives of 15 people, with many more remembering him shouting directions to get to the stairwell. Crowther re-entered the building a fourth time with members of the FDNY and was never seen again.
Mrs. Crowther asked why were at Grand Central Station and I told her that we were there to greet the many firefighters who were to arrive on the same train as them. With no firefighters on the train, we were going to head back to our hotel and get some rest before this evening’s memorial events. She looked at her husband and said, “These men are the first firemen we have met today in New York,” as she reached into her carry bag and pulled from it a brand new red bandanna for each of us.
As the story goes, Welles had a red bandanna covering his mouth to ease his breath from the toxic smoke from the jet fuel fire that was burning everywhere – the same prized bandanna given to him from his father, as a child.
To honor their son’s memory, they travel to New York every Sept. 11 to read his name and hand out red bandannas to those who have done extraordinary things.
The three of us were speechless; as I leaned forward to hug Mrs. Crowther, she began to cry, and tell us more about the man who saved so many.
I was truly honored to accept the red bandanna from the Crowther family in recognition of all of the Canadian firefighters who have reported for duty here on this 11th day of September. We hugged and said our goodbyes, and as we left Grand Central Station and headed north to our hotel in Midtown East Manhattan, the sun was coming up and shining on the buildings.
I can’t help but think something bigger happened in that grand foyer, and I will never forget this day.