September 11, 2001 was sunny with a bright blue sky. It was a Tuesday.
I was a rookie Firefighter who reported to work that morning. We had just received delivery of our new Squad and all personnel were at Station 2 training on the new apparatus. Being the rookie I was sent to pick up bagels for my tour. While driving back the music on the radio was interrupted by a news flash that a plane had hit the World Trade Center…. the rest of that morning and the immediate days after, I try to block from my memory.
To say life was different on Wednesday is an understatement and the Fire Service as we know it was forever changed. The days of only fighting fires were gone. Training took on a new dimension after that. We mourned the loss of brothers and sisters and we continue to stand beside those who suffer the lasting effects of those terrorist attacks.
Just 10 days ago New Jersey was dealt another blow when Hurricane Ida roared through, dumping historic amounts of rainfall, flooding our communities with a still untold amount of damage and loss of life. While continuing to face, head on, the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey’s first responders stood strong that night, rescuing thousands of New Jersey residents from swift rising waters.
In the 20 years since 9/11, I have witnessed three 100/500 year floods, seen an increase in major fires resulting from lightweight wood construction, and faced a global health pandemic. Each of these events stretched an already thin first responder community to its limits.
There is no secret recipe to mitigating these disasters- it’s boots on the ground that turn people’s worst day around. It’s New Jersey’s first responders who always answer the bell. It’s our firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers who consistently put wear and tear on their minds and bodies to keep our State safe.
Yet even after all of the major incidents in the past 20 years, coupled with the countless everyday calls, I still am confronted by elected officials who seek to decrease our ranks and put their political agendas over public safety.
After all we have learned, watched, and read about these incidents over two decades, municipal leaders should be looking to efficiently and prudently increase our ranks, not decrease them.
As first responders we sometimes miss the mark on telling our story. We continue to work through these calls and the toll it takes on us is real.
I write this article on behalf of the 5,500 members I have the honor of representing. The same men and women that show up everyday to provide a vital service to our great state and our local communities. We love our careers and we take the utmost pride in protecting you.
In return we ask you to remember the sacrifices and, if given the opportunity, to stand up and let your voice be heard by saying that these men and women need the manpower to do their job safely.
President Biden said it best during his visit to Manville earlier this week: “God made firefighters, the only thing that helps them is more firefighters.”
The NJFMBA mourns the losses of our residents who perished on 9-11 and in the wake of Hurricane Ida. We will work alongside all of New Jersey to recover once again and make our state stronger and more resilient.
Eddie Donnelly is the president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.