GREAT FALLS — Saturday marks 20 years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Among the casualties were 343 members of New York City’s fire department. Great Falls Fire Rescue firefighters talked with KRTV about how they, as firefighters, reflect on the tragic day.
"I was working that day actually at Fire Station number four,” GFFR Assistant Fire Chief Bob Shupe said. "We came in to work and realized what was going on. It was all over the news."
"It was almost unbelievable for us,” he continued. "Two out of the three of us that were on duty that day at that station were also Air National Guard members as well, so not only did it have ramifications in the fire service but for the military as well because they scrambled jets to intercept some of the planes that were still in the air."
Shupe said 9/11 was a sobering realization for many in the fire service industry.
"That there is the chance of the ultimate sacrifice that has to be paid,” said Shupe.
"I was just getting off night shift that morning when the first plane hit,” GFFR Deputy Fire Marshal Tom Zaremski said.
For Zaremski, the day is a reminder of the bravery and dedication firefighters have.
"You just look back on what the job the firefighters in New York had ahead of them. You knew it was going to be tough, you knew there was going to some tragedy, but you just assumed they were going to get the job done,” Zaremski said.
"It's just one of the things firefighters do. They go to work, they get the job done,” said Zaremski.
GFFR Battalion Chief BJ Perry was in the process of becoming a firefighter with Great Falls Fire Rescue when the terrorist attacks happened.
He had been hoping to go to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City for the 20th anniversary. "With COVID, obviously, it created some issues,” Perry said.
He said firefighters will never forget the firefighters lost that day. "There isn't a lot of time as firefighters that goes by that we don't think about that. We memorialize all those guys each year. We have memorabilia in our homes, books, I have the names of all the firefighters on a poster in our basement,” Perry said.
The constant remembrance of lives lost is not the only impact the terrorist attacks have had on the fire industry, however. They also changed the way the industry operates.
"Trainings take place all over the nation about how to deal with terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction on a terrorist-type level. Also, fire prevention bureaus around the country started changing a few things with the way buildings were constructed, fire suppression systems, elevators go to certain floors,” Shupe explained.
An industry forever changed by a day that forever changed the nation.
GFFR will host its annual 9/11 ceremony at Elk's-Riverside Park in Great Falls at 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 11.