Did you know the LAFD responded to the Twin Towers within hours following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001?
Most adults have the horrific images from September 11, 2001 burned into their memories. It was a day that changed us – people all around the world. Like the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, it was designed to inject us with fear, forcing us to look over our shoulders, and to capitulate when faced with continued attacks and threats.
The average college freshman starting their four year adventure this past month probably doesn’t remember September 11. Most first year students were four years old then. MySafe:LA students were born in 2005 and 2006. They’ve heard about it, but they may not know how important it was.
There are some important lessons we can teach our children, especially in this – the 15th anniversary of the attack, and an important election year. What are the key lessons?
First of all, we can teach them that most people are good. They help one another – they collaborate.
We can share that while there are “bad people” or “bad situations” in the world, they do not need to force us into an emotional corner.
We can tell them that when the twin towers were attacked, people from all over New York rushed in to help. Firefighters, police officers, EMS personnel, Harbor Patrol members, and the general public.
They didn’t respond as Democrats, as Republicans, or as conservatives or liberals.
They responded as Americans.
We are a resilient country. No other country in the world has the diversity, opportunity for progress, and democratic values that we love and fight for – even when we argue among ourselves. It’s what makes this such a special place to live – and hopefully to prosper.
And we can share important stories with our friends and our children. We can tell them about the many ways people came together. We can tell them how America stood tall in the face of adversity.
Within a few hours of the twin towers collapsing, of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania, and of the Pentagon being hit by another airliner, a group of individuals on the west coast were packing their bags to head east. FEMA’s California Task Force One (CA-TF1), made up of LAFD members, and CATF-2 from Riverside climbed into a military transport aircraft, and protected by fighter jets on each wing, flew back to New York. Separately, another group of LAFD members stuffed their pickup trucks, SUVs and cars with gear and other firefighters, and drove across the country to New York.
At first, it was a challenge, because the devastation was so huge, it was nearly impossible to know where to start. The FDNY Incident Commanders were fearful of other people being injured, and were to some degree unfamiliar with the FEMA response model. For three days, LAFD members stood by, looking for ways to help.
Determined to participate, LAFD members began showing up at FDNY fire stations. “What can we do to help?” they asked. They cooked. They cleaned bathrooms. They restocked apparatus. And as it became clear that staffing was a growing problem, they put on borrowed FDNY turnout coats, their own LAFD yellow and orange helmets, and they started responding to emergency calls.
FDNY commanders saw the strange yellow helmets on fire apparatus and asked, “who are those guys?” And, “What are they doing on our fire engines?” The answer was, “Those are members of the Los Angeles Fire Department. They’re responding so we can take care of our families and our work on the pile.” Shortly thereafter, LAFD members, including a number of chaplains, began receiving assignments to support the rescue and then recovery efforts.
In 2011, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of 911, at the request of the LAFD, MySafe:LA Executive Officer David Barrett and Education Director Cameron Barrett (both high experienced award-winning filmmakers), created a short film about the response to New York by the LAFD. “It was an honor,” Cameron Barrett said. “We had so little time to make the film, and it required a lot of rapid-fire interview preparation and overall planning.” The film has won numerous awards, and highlights the remarkable work performed by a group of FEMA task force member who had never before been deployed. It was a journey for the ages.
America came together in 2001. Let’s find a way to do it again, in times of peace and opportunity.
Here is the film.