For first responders, everything changed on Sept. 11

Published 1:36 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brewton Fire Chief Lawrence Weaver remembers an incident just after Sept. 11 that illustrated just how much things had changed since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. — and how much fear was now in the minds of first responders.

“This is small town U.S.A., and we just don’t expect things to happen here,” Weaver said. “Just a short while after 9/11 there was an explosion at T.R. Miller Mill, and you could hear pagers and sirens all over town when that call came in. The first thought in my mind was that terrorists might have made it to our small town. If something like that were to happen here or in any small town, it would rock this country to the core.”

Weaver said the actions taken by firefighters and other first responders changed after Sept. 11.

“We take more precautions now because of the lives lost that day,” Weaver said. “Firefighters died that day just doing their job.”

Weaver said life as first responders changed that day with more attention to detail and for security in fire departments.

“We got a call down that we should be extra cautious with our firetrucks,” Weaver said. “We were told that a threat had been made that terrorists would steal firetrucks and use them as bombs to drive into buildings. It certainly made us more aware and more watchful.”

David Adams, emergency management director for Escambia County, was working in Flomaton as director of public works and as a firefighter with the Century, Fla., fire department when the attacks began. The days, weeks, months and years that followed have forever changed the lives of Americans, he said.

“As I watched that second plan fly into the second tower I knew it was pretty obvious this wasn’t a mistake,” Adams said. “As a firefighter I wished that I had been close enough to help, but that just wasn’t an option. That day changed the way firefighters think and react.”

Adams said as many as 100 firefighters are lost every year in the line of duty and emergency personnel accept that as a fact.

“We lost 343 firefighters in an instant that day,” Adams said. “We just weren’t prepared to hear that. I didn’t know anyone personally who responded to those attacks that day, but as a firefighter we consider ourselves all part of a big family. It was an awful day for that family. Every time a responder goes to an incident, they know the chances of having issues arise that will mean they don’t return home could happen. Those responders in New York knew that going in. But, you have to do what you have to do. It’s all part of what we are trained to do.”

Adams said his current position as EMA director deals with homeland security, which looks at public functions differently since the tragedy of Sept. 11.

“We all look at things differently now,” Adams said. “That changed America. Everyone is more vigilant in watching our surroundings and reporting things that look out of place. We are all just a little more nervous about things that don’t look quite right. Law enforcement and homeland security officers look at all kinds of functions differently now. You’ll find increased security at ball games, NASCAR races, festivals and other public events because they are potential striking points where large numbers of people gather. It has changed how we live everyday.”

As the terrorists made their strike on American soil, Adams said they may not have overtaken the country, but they accomplished a goal.

“Those terrorists set out to create fear and terror in our country and that’s exactly what they did,” Adams said. “We know that people are more fearful now in many ways. The fear and terror put into the hearts and minds of our people that day make us fear the things we normally do. That’s what terroists do. Those actions that day changed how we live, and that’s exactly what they wanted.”

For other Brewton residents, the memories of Sept. 11 remain clear in their minds a decade later.

“I was on my way to work when I heard about the first plane hitting the first tower and assumed it was a small plane that had crashed into it by accident,” Claude Cosey said. “When I heard about the second plane hitting the second tower, I knew it was terrorism … and an act of war. I was shocked, but that soon turned to outrage. That day reaffirmed a belief I have long held and that belief is that there is evil in the world. We can not reason with it, appease it, make deals with it or ignore it and hope it simply goes away. We must remove it like a cancer. Evil has to be faced and destroyed. Thank God that we still have brave men and women in uniform who have the courage to seek out evil wherever it exists and rid the world of it before the evil visits us on our front doorstep again and brings the same kind of destruction, or even worse, as we witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001. Never forget. I’ve been told we are to forgive. I guess I’m just not that noble, but I haven’t yet.”

Greg Smith said he knows things in America changed — especially pulling together in a time of crises. “I was in the woods running a chainsaw and took a break to get some water and heard it over the radio that we had been attacked,” Smith said. “The hours and days that followed showed that this country can band together, that the lines between black and white and North and South can disappear, and when they do disappear, there isn’t a greater country in the world.”