Whether it's just one person or thousands, the effects of experiencing a critical incident can be long-lasting and life-changing. And when a critical incident has the reach that the tragic events on 9/11 have had on first responders, New York City, and the entire county, those implications can be profound and are still felt 20 years later.
Vector Solutions' very own Tim Riley, former division chief of training with over 30 years in the fire service, reflected on his powerful experience traveling to NYC to commemorate this year's 20th anniversary of 9/11. In good company, Tim and 11 (mostly retired) fellow firefighters, including two chiefs, two district chiefs, three captains, two lieutenants, a firefighter, and joined by one EMT, spent three days paying their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The group attended the 47th Annual FDNY vs. NYPD Hockey Game. This year's game honored the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In a special ceremony before the puck drop, both teams commemorated those lost on 9/11 and those who have since died from 9/11-related illnesses. FDNY defeated NYPD 7-4.
Arriving in the morning at the FDNY Academy on Randall's Island, the group was graciously greeted by a lieutenant and given a four-hour tour of the training academy. The tour started in the Admin building, where a large memorial dedicated to the 343 FDNY firefighters that perished on 9/11 resides, covering an entire wall. Powerful paintings of firefighters in action loom over individual photographs of all 343 firefighters, with the American flag and FDNY flag bookending both sides.
Leaving the Admin building, Tim and the group walked around the drill grounds, where there were dozens of training props and structures. Tim described the facility as "the most amazing drill grounds I've ever seen in my life." In addition to a number of buildings ranging from 3 to 6 stories tall, the grounds also includes an actual NYC subway car and about 400 ft of subway rail that firefighters use to practice real-world scenarios.
Attending The Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance Annual Candlelight Ceremony on Coney Island, where the memorial wall lives on the side of Maimonides Park's (formerly KeySpan Park), a minor league stadium, the group joined many other firefighters from FDNY and across the country. Tim reflected on how moved he was by two medal of honor winners who shared their experiences at 9/11 during the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, in true Coney Island tradition, the group gathered at Nathan's for hot dogs and beer and to reflect on the day.
In the morning, the group dressed in uniform and walked from their hotel to Rescue 1, one of five specialized rescue companies of FDNY. Although Rescue 1 is NYC's main rescue, the station is small yet inviting. A hot breakfast, prepared by the station's firefighters, greeted Tim's group and other firefighters in town for the anniversary.
The generosity and camaraderie felt in the modest station as firefighters from all over gathered to support one another. Rescue 1 was tragically hit particularly hard by 9/11, losing 11 members that day.
After breakfast, the group headed to St. Pat's Cathedral to join hundreds of firefighters and the family and friends of the FDNY 343 for a moving 9/11 memorial service.
Opening with colours, an American flag, Irish flag, and FDNY flag, the ceremony recognized the deep Irish roots in the U.S. fire service, especially in NYC. Succeeding the flags, the Archbishop of New York, the Mayor of NY, and the NY Fire Chief entered the cathedral. Then came the 343 recruits, each with an American flag, each representing one of the FDNY firefighters lost on 9/11. Tim shared, "We turned around and saw 343 recruits, all carrying an American flag. They marched down the main aisle. They broke off and came down the sides. There were so many that they had to make two rows down both sides. And they stayed there throughout the ceremony."
The recruits marched out of the cathedral, and the ceremony continued with the reading of all 343 names of the lost firefighters and where they were assigned.
Following the ceremony, on 5th Avenue outside of St. Pat's, two ladder trucks could be seen holding up a giant American flag.
After a change of clothes, Tim's group walked to O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub, then walked to The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum for the lighting of the memorial. Tim shared, "It was incredible to see." The crowd was full of firefighters and firefighter friends.
Reflecting on his time in NYC for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Tim shared, "When the bagpipes started playing Amazing Grace all at the same time," pausing in thought with eyes closed, he ended with, "It was a little tough."
Tim Riley expressed immense gratitude to FDNY Assistant Chief Michael Gala Jr. for taking great care of him and his group during their time in NYC and to all the firefighters for their hospitality and sacrifice.
Vector Solutions thanks Tim for his many years of service and for sharing his powerful experience and extends a heartfelt thank you to all first responders and their families impacted by the events of 9/11.