The post-9/11 rookie: My journey as an FDNY firefighter

I have the obligation to carry on the traditions and respect the 343 brothers and sisters helped to build

By Peter B Hespe Jr

I have been an NYC firefighter in Engine 275, which is housed with Ladder 133 in South Jamaica, Queens, for almost 10 years now.

I was hired just after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the day that not only changed us as a nation but that changed the NYC fire dept. forever.

I remember the morning of September 11, 2001, like it was yesterday, as I'm sure the rest of the country does. I was up at 5 a.m. to get ready for my job as a teamster working on the rehab of the Bruckner expressway in the Bronx, which overlooks the NYC skyline.

My day was as normal as could be until one of the laborers on the job said he could see smoke coming from one of the towers. I immediately turned on the radio, where they said they thought a small plane had hit one of the towers.

Shortly after that, as we were watching the smoke, we saw the second plane. I remember thinking to myself, simply, "This is bad." The next morning, I was at my company's yard, with every member of the company all asking what we could do to help.

The company president came out and said for all those who wanted to help, load your company pick ups and vans with as many tools as they can carry. One hour later, we were being escorted by NYC police cars into the site.

A scene I'll never forget
I remember seeing all the firefighters covered in soot, looking exhausted and in pain. It was a scene I will never forget, and is painful to remember.

I have many friends and family that were on the job and didn't know if they were OK. We worked for 15 hours that day. I was glad we were able to at least do something.

A few months after the attacks, I got a letter from the fire dept. saying that I was going to be in the next academy class. I couldn't believe my eyes.

It had been a long time coming. I had wanted to be an NYC firefighter since I was a little boy, when I'd go to my dad's firehouse and wear his helmet. "Now I'm going to have a helmet of my own on the greatest fire dept. in the country !"

The day I was sworn in was one of the proudest days of my life with the exception of my children being born. The academy was tough but at the same time it was fun. I met lifelong friends and got a real taste of the bond fireman have with one another.

By the end of the academy all you want to do is get out so you can do the job; see where you are going to be assigned to; an engine company or a truck company; what borough you will be in.

As tough as they were fun
As I said earlier, I was assigned to E275. The first few years were as tough as they were fun. You have a lot to prove to these guys who have been together for a long time and you're "the new guy," " the probie," the one who does the worst jobs and is responsible for it all in the firehouse.

Over the years, I began to truly learn of the love and mutual respect firefighters have for one another and the unbreakable bond there is. Until you actually experience it first hand, you can only just comprehend it when people talk about "camaraderie" and "the brotherhood."

It was only when I found myself in the center of it all that I really began to understand. I have an extended family for life now and I truly love every minute of it. It is by far the best decision I have ever made in my life.

That's why I know now how much the department and each firehouse across the city has gone through in losing so many brothers and sisters on that fateful day.

It was and will always continue to be the greatest fire department with the best traditions in the country and I know I have the 343 brothers and sisters to thank for that and the obligation to carry on the traditions and respect that they helped to build.

God bless them and their families, and God bless the NYC fire dept.

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