First Responders Look Back on Being at Ground Zero Ahead of 9/11 20th Anniversary

by Michael Freeman

20 years later, the 9/11 attacks still linger in the hearts of many. This is especially true for first responders and their families. WGN TV News recently interviewed a handful of first responders who recount what happened that day and on the days that followed.

Chicago Fire Department Chief Bob Hoff and Western Springs firefighter Jimmy Regan all vividly remember what happened on 9/11.

“We didn’t care about getting hurt. We wanted to go out and help, and that was a matter of reaching out to the Fire Commissioner at the time, Jim Joyce, who was one of the best the city ever had,” Hoff said. Joyce approved the request and so, firefighters from the city and surrounding suburbs headed for Ground Zero. Arriving on September 12 in the morning, the firefighters reported to a command staff FDNY chief.

Meanwhile, Regan somberly remembers how many close friends he lost. “Fire engines crushed to two feet high, and then as time went on, I found out that all my friends in Rescue 2 are dead. So probably, by the end of the day I had 12 people who are close to me who are dead. I couldn’t believe it.”

Of particular note is the distinct smell on 9/11 and after. Hoff states he’s never smelled anything like it before. “In 47 years of fire service, I’ve never smelled anything like it before or after that. It was a smell of something burning, and we’ve all smelled plastic, wood, mattresses, you name it. But that smell permeated your clothes.”

When they weren’t helping at Ground Zero, the two were helping out firehouses, cooking, and cleaning, while also attending funerals. Regan states there were seven or eight a day and it was “heart-wrenching.”

Ahead Of 9/11 20th Anniversary, A 9/11 Survivor Emotionally Discusses First Responders

Recognizing the immense sacrifice and toil of first responders, John Feal tirelessly supports them. Speaking to TMZ, Feal emotionally discusses the struggles he’s faced for them.

Feal lost his foot working as a demolition supervisor at Ground Zero. Since then, he’s fought for first responders and 9/11 survivors. His biggest battle was against Congress in an attempt to fund first responder medical benefits through 2090. Not widely known, 9/11 survivors and first responders continue to lose their lives today after being exposed to contaminants in lower Manhatten.

However, even after finally beating Congress, Feal is still upset. “The only satisfaction I got was beating the snot out of Congress and the Senate, who I don’t like and I got a chip on my shoulder because it took so long to ensure that these men and women in uniform and non-uniform get the justice they deserve.”

Further in the interview, when asked how he would spend 9/11, Feal became emotional. Stating he’d have to “fake a smile,” he mentioned doing interviews and events before having to stop and compose himself.

Near the end of the video, Feal says he hopes people will put aside their differences and come together, even if only for a day.