Firefighters, police react to tragedy

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 16, 2001

Staff Writer

Local firefighters and law enforcement are mourning the loss of comrades ­ many they never knew.

This week, law enforcement officers, firefighters, rescue workers, military personnel, as well as innocent civilians lost their lives because of terrorist attacks on the United States. And, people right here in Pike County are mourning the loss.

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On Thursday, more than 4,700 were figured to be missing and the rescue and recovery personnel at the World Trade Center recovered parts of 70 bodies. Officials confirmed 94 dead and the identities of 20 or less.

What makes the recovery process more difficult for crews is the fact, they are looking for some of their own ­ firefighters, police officers and other rescue personnel.

Peter Ganci, chief of the New York Fire Department, is one of those who lost a life and it was just a matter of weeks ago when Johnny Gibson, a local firefighter, spoke with the man who is now dead.

On Aug. 24, Gibson spoke briefly with Ganci ­ the chief of a 14,000-personnel department ­ at an international conference of fire chiefs in New Orleans, La.

Looking at a book all about the fire departments in New York, Gibson pointed out 12 firefighters died while responding to a single call in 1966.

"That’s the most killed at one time until this," Gibson said.

He was watching the news when anchors broke in with news of plane hitting the World Trade Center and, like many others, thought it was an accident.

As word came through that it was a terrorist attack, Gibson said he asked, "Where are the good guys? That’s what we call each other (firefighters)."

The firefighters soon arrived, but the building collapsed and he watched in horror as his comrades were being crushed.

"They were doing their job and they’d do it again," he said of the firefighters who have lost their lives because of the acts of terrorism. "I knew they were in the building. I didn’t have to be told that."

He also wasn’t surprised to find out many are missing since many off-duty firefighters arrived on their own to help.

In addition to Ganci other emergency personnel are confirmed to be dead. New York firefighter Ray Downey, chief of special operations command; William Feehan, first deputy commissioner of the New York Fire Department; fire department chaplain the Rev. Mychal Judge and emergency medical technician Yamel Merino all died in the debris of the World Trade Center.

Robert Catrett, vice-president of the Pike County Firefighters Association, hopes more people will support firefighters more after the terrible tragedy.

"People need to be more supportive of fire departments by donating so they can purchase much-needed equipment," Catrett said. "If anything, Tuesday’s attacks brings to light those needs."

St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan officials said about 800, including 83 firefighters and police officers, had been brought to that facility.

Capt. Grady Wiggins of the Troy Police Department said many in blue are offering prayers because of the "tremendous loss of life."

Wiggins was concerned for those police officers and other emergency personnel who were first on the scene and entered the World Trade Center before the 110-story twin towers came down in a blast of dust and debris.

"It was obvious they were under tremendous physical risk," Wiggins said. "As always, they put themselves in harm’s way. They made the supreme sacrifice to prevent further loss of life."

He also sympathizes with officials who are investigating the acts of terrorism.

"All that area has to be treated as a crime scene," Wiggins said, adding it will be "weeks and weeks" until information is uncovered.

"This investigation covers the entire world," Wiggins said.

At the Pentagon, 126 were believed to be dead and 70 bodies had been recovered from the rubble.

Those killed in the plane that went down outside Pittsburgh will likely push the number of dead over 5,000. That number is higher than the toll from Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Titanic, combined. A total of 2,390 Americans died at Pearl Harbor nearly 60 years ago and the sinking of the Titanic claimed 1,500 lives.

In an effort to remember those fire and rescue officials, law enforcement officers, military personnel and civilian victims, the city of Troy will have a memorial service at 3 p.m., Sunday at Bicentennial Park.