WASHINGTON (WDVM) — On September 11, 2001, 2,996 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks on the United States. The majority of lives lost happened in New York City, following the attacks on the World Trade Center.
187 others died following the attack on the Pentagon, and 44 more died in the crash-landing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Over one thousand emergency first responders answered the call for help that day, and those who did not pay the ultimate sacrifice carry it with them still.
Six months after the attacks and every Sept. 11 since, beams of light have illuminated the sky, stretching up from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and from the Pentagon. The beams can be seen for miles, and the symbols draw near to American hearts as we stop and reflect on that day. For those who responded to the call for help, simply seeing the building in Arlington or the memorial in New York is enough to take them back 20 years.
Two words are spoken every time 9/11 comes up: never forget. Those two words carry a lot of weight in the United States, and especially with the first responders who saw the terrorist attacks up close.
D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Captain Daniel Troxell said, “It was hard to comprehend that it was really happening and that we were part of it and actually going there,” as he reminisced on that day.
Captain Troxell was working his first assignment as a captain in Anacostia on Sept. 11, 2001. He was not scheduled to work on that day, but came in as soon as he heard the Pentagon had been attacked, and he was not the only D.C. firefighter to do so.
Captain Troxell said, “We basically got our gear, got the rig ready to go, called communications, asked what they wanted us to do.”
The captain and crew got the reserve rescue squad across the Potomac just in time to relieve others who were running out of oxygen.
“I just remember it was so much fire, it was unreal,” Captain Troxell recalled. “A two and a half-inch hose line flows over 250 gallons a minute, and it wasn’t making a dent in this fire. It was jet fuel that was burning down the hallways, down the rooms and we weren’t making any progress.”
Still, the captain and his men continued their job until they too ran out of oxygen.
Vito Maggiolo was also on the ground, who was working as the unpaid civilian photographer for the fire department at the time. Maggiolo also worked on the assignment desk for the Cable News Network.
As the chaos continued to break out, Maggiolo convinced his manager at CNN to let him go to the scene at the Pentagon and work in his capacity as the civilian photographer.
He said, “Immediately, I can see the magnitude of the destruction. The collapse had already taken place. There was a tremendous amount of fire burning, firefighters hard at work trying to search and fight the fire.”
Fire engines worked for hours.
Captain Troxell said, “We were in there fighting that fire, and guys were just coming back and taking more and doing more, not giving up. I was very proud of what we did that day and I’m still very proud of the department and the people we have.”
Even with that sense of pride, it does not come without a flurry of emotions after experiencing the attacks first-hand.
“It was highly emotional and just coming to grips with all of it. I knew several of the New York City firemen who were killed,” said Captain Troxell.
Maggiolo added, “You know, I love going to fires to watch the firefighters work, to study the techniques, to see the fire extinguished, to document what took place. For a while, I said I don’t know if I ever want to go to another fire in my life.”
After working through all of the emotions that came from the 9/11 attacks, 20 years later each man still works with D.C. Fire, carrying a sense of pride in their work and respect for all first responders working alongside them.
Maggiolo, who is currently the Public Information Officer, said, “We use the mantra ‘never forget,’ but never forget is more than two words. It’s truly never forget the sacrifices.”
“We were lucky we didn’t lose any firefighters in the activities we were doing, but New York City lost 343 people and I think, unfortunately, people have forgotten about the sacrifices they made that day,” said Captain Troxell. Those sacrifices continue today. “I think people take us for granted until they need us, and really don’t think about us after that or before that.”
Even though they will answer the call for help regardless of a “thank you,” a small gesture means the world when the toughest of days strike.
“You know, when you see public safety personnel, firefighters, E.M.S., take the time to say hi and thank them for their service,” said Maggiolo.