The 9-11 blog from 36,000 feet
By Jay Shaw
The 9-11 blog
Winnipeg firefighter Jay Shaw completes the 9-11 blog today after a moving several days in New York City for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that killed 343 FDNY firefighters.
By Jay Shaw
Sept. 13, 2011, New York City
This will be the second last 9-11 blog. I
want some time to reflect
on the journey to celebrate the lives of not only the 343 firefighters,
but also all the responders and victims of 9-11; I promised Desiree from
the 102nd floor of the south tower that I would. This brotherhood is
unbelievable. As I type looking out over one of the Great Lakes,
I’m drinking a cold beer purchased by a captain in the Buffalo Fire
Department who is sitting in first class. Thank you my friend!
New York City has a soul –
a living, breathing personality that you can experience. I am not a
world traveler, however, I can say with out a doubt that New York
is one of my favorite places. I will be back with my family sometime in
the near future to see more of the sights and visit the 9-11 memorial
when it fully opens in 2012-13. A firefighter from Chicago who has been
to 9-11 every year asked me if I will be back next year for the 11th. He said he hopes guys don’t just come to every major anniversary like the 20th in 2021. So, if you’re planning to come, here are some tips to make your money stretch and your memories unbelievable.
- Cabs are nuts, period! They drive on the edge. Airport(s) to Manhattan was $50. All other cabs averaged $10 to $15 in Manhattan.
- Bring the best pair of walking shoes you can; for distances of more than 10 blocks, consider a cab or the subway, as Manhattan is 13 miles long and more than two miles wide.
subway is $2.50 per ride and is by far the cheapest way to travel, but
be warned: the trains are packed and we got on the wrong train a few
times, as the underground city is a whole other world. We did not run
into any trouble and there were cops everywhere in the subway, but I
felt it was the unsafe part of our journey.
- Hotels in Manhattan
run $250 to $400 a night for two- or three-star accommodations. We had
an in with the Best Western and paid a lot less. If you can’t get the
fire deal, consider using a rental service such as Air B n’ B. It’s like
Kijiji but for short-term rentals, and we were going to stay in a
beautiful two-bedroom apartment on the upper east side, overlooking Central Park,
for $100 a night. These are houses, condos, and apartments that owners
rent, and it is all verified and a great service. There are several
sites that I found are great – just search NYC vacation rentals, and
consider New Jersey, as I was told it is way cheaper and is just a $7
ferry ride across the Hudson that takes about five minutes.
- Times Square, the Empire State Building,
Harbor Circle Line Cruise, and the Statue of Liberty are all a must,
and when you add a few other attractions it starts to add up. We used
the NYC pass (Google it) and for three days we jumped the long lines to
the front, saving hours; the pass is good for 52 other places and costs $130. There was much to see that we just did not have time to take in.
bars in and around Ground Zero are fabulous and the FDNY hangouts are
Suspenders at 111 Broadway, and O’Hare’s on Liberty Street, right at the
Engine Ten House memorial wall overlooking Ground Zero. I
have to give props to the Social bar across the street from Engine 54
house, as well as Legends Sports bar across from the south entrance to
the Empire State Building. Times Square was fabulous as well. Anything with an Irish name had firefighters in it and was a good time.
The FDNY firehouses were inundated with tourist and firefighters from the around the world. Most of the firefighters in lower Manhattan
were burned out from hosting visitors. I can see how it can get too
much! No FDNY firefighter traded shirts with anybody I saw in town. This
is because almost every house has its own identity and culture that is
displayed on the uniform, and all the houses sell T-shirts to pay for
the extras things in the halls like cable and kitchen supplies that are
not city covered.
We did not make it to the other four boroughs, but Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and The Bronx have just as much history as Manhattan,
and some firefighters in town lived at the houses in these boroughs and
chipped in for meals. Ride-alongs were permitted without paperwork, and
we considered staying and hanging out at Engine 65 house in Manhattan, as they were very accommodating and offered us lunch.
I hope I have convinced
you to visit. On a personal note, thank you for reading and coming along
for the ride. One more blog to come . . .
Sept. 13, 2011, New York City
Yesterday we arrived at Ground Zero hoping to secure passes to get into the actual memorial (www.911memorial.org). We were unsuccessful, as many of the hundreds of firefighters who where there were also turned away. While yesterday was the first official day that the memorial was open to the public, the reservation system opened weeks ago and the free passes were sold out in seconds for Day 1; I tried more than a month ago to get tickets and was shut out. We were told by communication staff to come down and they would get us press passes but the overflow of family members from Sunday’s services had to be accommodated yesterday, and unless you were with CNN, you were left out in the cold.
Fortunately, I had made contact with the family survivors group that opened its own museum next door to Ten House at Liberty Street and Ground Zero, called Tribute WTC Visitor Center (www.tributewtc.org). This amazing organization has artifacts and exhibits from the pile, as well as a great gift and information center.
Our guided tour was provided by two 9-11 survivors.
Desiree Bouchat was a finance employee on the 101st floor of the south tower, which started evacuating after confusion about reports of a small plane hitting the north tower. As Desiree exited to the elevated lobby, the second plane hit. Many of her co-workers perished.
Vic Guarnera was the security systems manager and had been working at the WTC in 1993 during the bombing. He was on the 35th floor of the north tower when it was struck, and made his way to the command post where he started marshalling fire chiefs into the incident command center they had pre-established. As people were exiting the towers at the west entrance, several were killed by civilians jumping from above the 78th floor. Vic advised the FDNY chiefs to move their evacuation corridor to the north. When the chiefs went out to see how bad the debris was, it was raining fire from the jet fuel, and Vic found the helmet of FDNY chaplain Father Mychal Judge; the chaplain had been hit by a civilian who fell or jumped from the upper floors. Judge is remembered as the first official casualty of the FDNY and of 9-11. As the south tower started to rumble to the ground, Vic headed north to escape the debris cloud.
|Two 9-11 survivors, Desiree Bouchat (left) and Vic Guarnera, gave tours
of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center to blogger Jay Shaw and his
companions. Photo by Jay Shaw.
In Vic’s tour he explained some interesting facts:
• Normal population of the Twin Towers on a Tuesday at 8:46 am. was between 45,000 and 50,000.
• The population estimate on Sept. 11th, 2001, was between 15,000 and 18,000.
There are three reasons for this discrepancy and they all are partially responsible for the buildings being under-populated that morning.
• Tuesday, Sept. 11, was the first day of school in New York and many parents had taken their children to meet their teachers.
• It was voting day, to elect primary representatives and, under state law, employers must give one hour to workers to vote; most take the hour in the morning.
• The Denver Broncos played the Giants on Sept. 10 in Denver and the time difference kept New York football fans up into the early morning as the game went into triple overtime.
All of these factors may have prevented thousands from arriving early, saving their lives.
Sept. 12, 2011, New York City
Canada is here!
I have never been more proud to be a Canadian firefighter than I am
today. The Canadian fire service was represented in full force from so
many regions at last nights 9-11 memorial it was magnificent. From west
to east, we can proudly to say we were here. Yesterday afternoon, I took
a boat cruise around lower Manhattan that gets you up close with Lady
Liberty. As we boarded, we were met with no fewer than 25 Canadian
firefighters from eastern Canada. The conversation quickly turned to
identifying who is in NYC, and where are they. I believe every province
is represented and many small departments are here – on their own dimes –
out of a sense of necessity. We talked shop, told tales, and generally
reflected on our experiences, and where we where 10 years ago. Most of
my new friends signed our FFIC banner and a few pictures have already been posted.
While having dinner at a 7th Street pub with about 30 other firefighters
from across Canada and the U.S., we heard some sirens outside from
Engine 54, Ladder 8 house, where all of the members died on 9-11; every
single firefighter working that day perished. We walked outside and saw a
pipe-and-drum band just starting to set up and salute the crew from
Engine 54. If you go to the Fire Fighting in Canada Facebook page you will see this amazing video.
An update on yesterday’s 343 plus one posting.
I left my travelling team in the capable hands of some of Chicago’s best
firefighters. I needed to get my head wrapped around our big day
tomorrow and get some writing done. We have been granted a private tour
of Tribute WTC, which is right beside Ten House at Ground Zero and I
As I walked the nine blocks east to our hotel, I passed Times Square and
briefly talked to some Montreal firefighters who were heading home as
As I continued east, the city block ahead was much darker, as the neon
billboards of Times Square make night time look like the day. The
building that was the darkest had very little lighting and something
caught my eye, as I had seen this building a few times so far.
The Saks Fifth Avenue department store had removed all of its famous
window displays and laid large black cloth in all of its massive
windows. The cloth listed the names of all of the victims of 9-11, in
alphabetical order. I was staring at the S section and I traced back
words walking briskly to see if I could find him. After a whole block I
turned the corner and continued only to find I was at J. One more turn –
almost circling the entire department store – and I found the name I
was looking for, Welles Crowther, the man in the red bandanna.
I photographed his name and touched the glass, and told him his parents would be proud.
Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan replaced its usual window displays with a
black cloth listing the names of all of the victims of 9-11, including
Welles Crowther, whose parents Jay met a day earlier. Photo 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.
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
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
To honour 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
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
I was truly honoured 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
I can’t help but think something bigger happened in that grand foyer, and I will never forget this day.
Sept. 11, 2011, New York City
Yesterday, we met up with the FDNY boys
from Engine 44 and 65 house, swapped stories, traded some pins and took
pictures – a real great group of firefighters. We saw Times Square; it
is way bigger than I thought it would be, and really tops Vegas in my
books. The top of the Rockefeller center served up some nice pictures
with our Fire Fighting in Canada banner, and the pizza here is amazing.
However, before I get to the good stuff, I have to say the NYC cabs are
crazy. We actually were scared for our lives, as every cabbie was
full-on gas or brake. The subway was so crowded I actually though there
was some fire code we were breaking. Transportation in this city is a
Walking to the subway, we were swamped by two full-out parades and a
massive street festival, and had to veer several blocks due to
congestion to get to the church for the 9-11 prayer service. We rounded
the corner to a wall of thousands of firefighter from all over the
world, and of course we saw some Canadians. Markham, Ont., Fire Station
95 was represented with Collin Francis and Blair Gallant. We were to
meet up with them later last night in Times Square to inspect some
establishments for safety.
As I started filming the marching procession, I could feel my eyes start
to water and my emotions started to get the best of me. I held it
together, barely. As we stood there and saluted the members, I could see
our Markham brothers standing at attention in their Class As, and I was
proud to see other Canadians among us.
Today, we have been invited to the FDNY major celebration as members
have been told to stay away from Ground Zero. We assemble with them at
8:46 a.m., exactly when the first plane hit the North Tower.
At sunset, after the politicians have had their day at Ground Zero, we
will return to Engine 10, Ladder 10, and witness the full 80-piece FDNY
band perform what I can only guess will be the most moving part of the
Sept. 10, 2011, New York City
It’s magnificent, and enormous, the 16-acre site where almost 3,000 innocent victims were murdered.
My eyes are drawn to the sky, where the towers used to be. I’ve never seen them but the iconic symbols of American capitalism have been enshrined in my head through movies such as Wall Street, Crocodile Dundee, and Miracle on 34th Street.
Tonight, the city will illuminate the sky with 88 lights shining two perfect beams into the sky, filling the eerie void where the towers once stood. We need to get to an elevated position to see the site in its true likeness.
I’m not sure what I’m feeling; there are hundreds of people down here. I wonder who is a tourist, a New York City firefighter, perhaps a survivor with a story.
The people of New York have, for the most part, been taking all the extra tourists and media attention in stride; after all, it is New York! A few New Yorkers I have spoken to have told me how they cannot believe 10 years have past.
Last night at Brothers Meeting Brothers, we were witness to a very moving, 10-piece drum and bagpipe performance by the FDNY Emerald Society. This performance was amazing, and left a crowd of a few hundred on their feet in admiration. We met firefighters from the U.K., San Diego, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis and Texas, all here for one purpose – to pay respects to a job and a department that lost so much. I toasted with a marine, a sailor from the USS New York, and it was my privilege to shake the hand of a Special Ops Navy Seal from Team 6, the very team that hunted down Osama Bin Laden.
|FDNY piper Kevin O’Connor of the Emerald Society during Friday night’s ceremonies. Photo by Jay Shaw.
While I have been here less than 24 hours, the city is obviously on high alert. There are pockets of NYPD on every corner, it seems, and we spoke to many of them and offered our condolences on the 23 members they lost on 9-11.
Today is logistics, planning, and then some operations as we get our bearings head to the FDNY fire zone store, and visit Engine 44 house.
Sept. 9, 2011, Grand Forks, N.D.
Darren is flying out of the Calgary International Airport and meeting us at the hotel in downtown Manhattan. Phil and I have a slightly different method of travel. Imagine a tougher, more inspiring kind of road trip, than say City Slickers or Dumb & Dumber. Both of our wives needed the mini-vans to hall the kids around and Phil’s SUV is a gas hog; that left the Echo. My non-air-conditioned 2001 Toyota Echo served us well as we drove two and a half hours to the Grand Forks Airport. We are a frugal bunch, this firefighter brethren, but the savings on gas and flights will make up for the touristy gadgets my kids will look for in my suitcase when I return. Both of us are 6’1” and 230 pounds and wear our hair the same way (read: balder than Mr. Clean). Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, then this job isn’t for you. One of my many nicknames is Shrek, and Phil often gets mistaken for Uncle Fester from the Addams family.
Now that you have that awesome picture in your head, you can appreciate the humour in our mode of transportation, as we immediately argued over the music selection. I prefer country and current trendy radio music, while Phil likes rock. We managed to survive each other’s company and headed to Tim Hortons for some coffee. As I wrote this, our plane was scheduled to leave in half an hour. We will land at LaGuardia, where the trip starts with our first New York City cab ride. We are staying in Midtown east, which I am told is very close to Times Square and the theater district. If we had more time, catching a Letterman taping might be in the cards, but alas, no rest for the weary.
In all seriousness, as I sit in the airport writing this I can say that the significance of the trip was felt by the both of us when we told the U.S. customs official we were firefighters going to New York to pay our respects to the 343 firefighters who were killed on 9-11. The border guard had just returned from Ground Zero a few months ago and told us how inspiring his trip was. The officer then proceeded to scan our passports, and then he asked to inspect our trunk and flight boarding passes. With the latest CNN reports of a new possible terrorist attack in New York and Washington, we will all find a heightened security at the border for the next few days, as no one is innocent enough. We drove ahead, and for the next few seconds there was a silent clarity that put all the joking and humour aside. This 10-year anniversary of 9-11 has become more than simply a terrorist attack, rather a symbol of American and world freedom. It resonates with everyone, as we all have a story, regardless of whether you wear the Maltese cross. Firefighter or civilian, the “we” in we will never forget is for all of us now. The world is watching.
Next post is from New York!
Sept. 8, 2011, Winnipeg
I have been trying to research and plan just what to do when
I’m in NYC. Ground Zero is a must, with as many visits to fire houses as
I can get in to meet our brothers and hear their stories, if they will
Trying to obtain official 9-11 memorial plans has been painful, as
releasing pertinent logistical information is not part of the security
mindset of New York officials. I have been told by many that Ground Zero
will be tighter than the White House on the 11th and that getting close
will be impossible. I have a great interview lined up with the founder
of Tribute World Trade Center – www.tributewtc.org – a retired
firefighter who lost his son at Ground Zero. We have been invited to
several rescue and engine companies in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn,
and we will attend the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation
event called Brothers Meeting Brothers the night we arrive. This event
has been organized for out-of-town firefighters who may not know the
city or many members of the FDNY— a class act by the FDNY.
You may have heard that the city has notified its 11,000-plus
firefighters that this Sept. 11 is for families of the victims, and
dignitaries who will preside over official memorial events. CNN has
reported that The City of New York has asked that firefighters not
attend Ground Zero events. While this oversight may seem like a small
issue to government types, I see it as a major insult to our family –
the fire service family which, it could be argued, is a worldwide
brotherhood. How do you exclude the very ones who, by some estimates,
made the largest rescue in the history of the fire service as thousands
of civilians were successfully evacuated from the towers? How do you
dream of saying that while you are a firefighter and civil servant, you
are not human, and therefore you are not equal in your right to grieve,
and pay respects to the fallen?
We will be there at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, and I will promise you
this: short of doing anything illegal, we will get as close to the
events as possible. I have a feeling 11,000 other firefighters will be
right there with us.
Sept. 7, 2011, Winnipeg
I decided in January that I wanted to go to New York City for the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
There many reasons why I felt the need to go to NYC – so many that they
would take up this whole blog – but the main reason is that, as a
firefighter, I felt a connection to the tragedy of 9-11. Firefighters
have a lot of knowledge of the job – the brotherhood, climbing the
stairs of a highrise in full gear. The similarities can put us in the
shoes of the FDNY members and we can, therefore, relate, on some level,
to what happened that day, how they responded, and the immense tragedy
that 9-11 has become.
But the similarities end there, as I struggle to comprehend the 343
deaths, the increased cancer rates and the poor treatment from
government post 9-11 when the cameras went away.
I have never been to the Big Apple and I took a leap of faith and threw out the idea to a brother and to Fire Fighting in Canada.
Immediately, a working plan was created and the idea was shaping into
reality as a close firefighter friend agreed to go along for the ride.
Two months ago, a third firefighter from Calgary jumped aboard, and the
travelling roster looks like this:
Firefighter/PCP Jay Shaw, Winnipeg Fire Department; firefighter Phil
Kennedy, Winnipeg Fire Department; firefighter Darren Tomczak, Calgary
Firefighters from across North America and the world were in New York
City for the World Police and Fire games Aug. 26 through Sept. 5. There
is no rest for NYC, as shortly after the games closed, the next round of
visitors embarked on a journey to pay respects to the 343 FDNY
firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
I have found, through social media, firefighters from the U.K.,
Netherlands, and all over the United States who are travelling this
memorial event. It reminds my in some way of the pilgrimage to Mecca, as
firefighters across the globe feel a magnetizing pull toward New York.
Our goal is to attend some of the many memorial services, visit some
firehouses and meet members who responded to the WTC on 9-11. I want to
tell them that Canadian firefighters support the FDNY in efforts to get
better medical coverage for the enormous jump in cancer rates they have
faced. We want to do the tourist thing and see the Statue of Liberty,
the Empire State Building, the fire museum and Times Square. Phil and I
are using this trip as an excuse to go for a run in Central Park and
spark some sort of fitness regiment that will last longer than our
I will blog (at least) twice a day, with pictures and stories. I hope to
bring you a firefighter’s view of what we see and what is happening at
Ground Zero. I hope you enjoy reading.
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