ROCK SPRINGS – Twelve years have past since the nation and the residents of Rock Springs watched as two iconic symbols fell from the New York skyline, the circle of strength, the Pentagon, was broken and the brave passengers who saved countless lives gave all over Pennsylvania.
For months after Sept.11, it seem our heart strings were pulled on a daily basis hearing stories of the first responders who lost their lives and how the families were dealing with the emptiness. For first responders in Sweetwater County, losing brothers from different departments hit very close to home.
For the past 18 years Tony Colbert has made sure residents remain safe working in a Rock Springs Fire Truck. On the fateful day, Colbert was working a double, He said he was on his way out to get his day started with the events started happening.
“Somebody said that a plane had hit the trade center. I thought it was an accident like a smaller plane had hit it,” Colbert said. “It took me a minute to realize that it was more than an accident.”
As the tragedy played out and the towers fell, Colbert said it really did not register with him until several years later.
While he had seen pictures of the twin towers on the famous skyline, it really hit him when he was flying into New York just a few years ago for the first time. He said he looked along the skyline and said “There is where they were, that is were the towers were.”
“It such a massive loss of live,” Colbert said. “I still have a hard time fathoming the magnitude of it. It was much more personnel because firefighters are such a close-nit family. They are our brothers from another station.”
Steve Casey has been a member of the RSFD for four years and was a senior at Big Piney/Marbleton on the day. He remembered being on high school work release during the day so it wasn’t until he returned at noon that he really got to see the destruction.
“I couldn’t believe that a plane brought down such a huge building,” Casey said.
Being a firefighter was always what Casey wanted to do and there was not a second though for him as he watched the events. “The fact is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at, anything can happen and everyday is a gift,” Casey explained on what he will take with him from that day. “It means a lot to be part of the fire department. It is like a family and we will always take care of each other.”
Being a rookie on the force, Nathan Reese had only two years under his belt as he watched the towers fall. One big thing that stuck in his head was watching the radio tower on top of the center disappear in the dust and smoke.
“I was just amazed,” Reese said. “I thought how hard it would be to control a situation like that and though how do you fight a fire like that. The tallest building we have here is four stories and that reaches the top of the ladder.”
After the events, Reese said it did launch a whole new regiment of training for the department. He said it is one of the things he will take with him everyday because every time they respond to a scene, the way they park the fire engine, the way they enter a structure, and so much more is due to Sept. 11. Reese said it makes you remember everyday of the magnitude of that day.
Many people also remember watching as law enforcement tried to clear the scene and control the massive disaster. Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Det. John Grossnickle was just a patrol deputy at the time. He was on the graveyard shift during the attacks. One thing which sticks in Grossnickle’s memory is the quietness in the air that night. With all flights grounded, Grossnickle explained it was very quiet that night.
The other thing Grossnickle vividly remembers is the amount of vehicles at gas stations, truck stops and throughout the county with New York plates. Due to all flights being grounded, people rented cars and were traveling back home from New York.
SWSO Public Information Officer Det. Dick Blust had been with the department for 10 years. Like Colbert, Blust did not realize something had hit the towers, he thought it was just a fire. Later he was traveling to Houston, Texas to pick up his mother-in-law who was stranded because of the flight restrictions.
After the events of the day, Blust said he will always remembers watching this long teletype which went to all law enforcement agencies. He said it was a long list of names to be on the lookout for, all middle eastern.
“The incidents at the Pentagon, the towers and Pennsylvania were so incredibly huge,” Blust said. “I can only image the the level of activity, stress and confusion the firefighters and law enforcement officials had to deal with.”
Flying has been the biggest issue and Blust said he has flown many times, including a few months after Sept. 11. One thing that has bothered him is the amount of people who complain about security at airports now.
“Air travel has changed forever and it will never go back. I find it annoying so many people complain about security at the airports,” Blust explained. “I flew within a month or so after and i have never felt inconvenienced.”
For me I was not one of these brave men i interviewed for this story but still remembers those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to save complete strangers. Though the interviews for this, i heard the statement “As everybody runs out, we run in.” The thought of that would scared the hell out of me but for local first responders they don’t even blink.
Like many people, I did watch the plane hit the second tower on the news that morning and watched the towers fall as i was getting ready for work. At the time i worked at a local bar and i remember walking in and thinking to myself that it was going to be a very strange day.
I remember actually getting offended when people would come in ready to party.
Later that night, President George W. Bush spoke to the Nation. Everyone in the bar went to the pool room and listened. I have never seen that many people in a bar stop and listen and I definitely had never heard a bar that quiet. As I left that night, you knew nothing would ever be the same again. Only Pearl Harbor must have brought these same feelings to the surface.
While we go on and the Sept. 11 anniversary fades into history, it is important to remember where you were that day. We will never forget.