Local firefighter: ‘My brothers died on Sept. 11’
Bill Johnston has left home while carving the Thanksgiving turkey, his son’s football games, weddings and funerals, all in order to respond to various firefighting calls.
When terrorists murdered thousands in New York one year ago today, he and the fire department were called out again. Not to some obscure Moffat County road, but for family.
“My brothers died on Sept. 11,” said Johnston, 50, a firefighter with the Craig Rural Fire Protection District. “I don’t know their names, I’ve never seen them before, but they’re my brothers.”
Johnston’s local brothers rallied in the days after the worst terrorist
attack on American soil, preparing to hit the road for New York City
where they would help wherever needed.
“We contacted the New York Fire Department over the Internet, offering assistance, and we tried to contact somebody in Denver who was pooling people from all over the state,” said Roy Mason, chief of the local fire department and Craig native.
Beleaguered New York fire officials thanked,
Craig’s assistance offer.
“We don’t have anywhere for you,” Mason recalled the response. “Stay home, take care of your own.”
The fire department was called out yet again today, joined by officers from the Craig Police Department, Moffat County Sheriff’s Department, Colorado State Patrol, and responders from The Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services, all of whom gathered for a prayer at the Moffat County Public Safety Center.
Last year, they gathered there under assault by an unknown, audacious enemy. A command post, where area law enforcement officials huddled, was established in a meeting room of the Public Safety Center, which had been open about one month on the day of the attack. There, officials pulled out emergency plans and established communications with local officials.
If terrorist could strike at the heart of U.S. capitalism, why not Craig, Colo.?
“If they really wanted to shake America, they should have sent planes into towns of 10,000 to show rural America ‘You’re not safe,'” said Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg.
Hoberg, a Craig resident, was on his way out of the patrol room that morning, when word of the attacks hit. Early on, reports of 10,000 possibly dead in New York with devastating losses among firefighters and police kept all glued to the television.
“If I’d been there, I would have done the same thing,” Hoberg said of his New York colleagues. “People depend on us to go.”
Meanwhile, emergency responder Tom Soos watched the
television for friends in action amid the chaos of Lower Manhattan. Soos, with TMH’s Emergency Services, moved to Craig just
over two years ago from New Jersey.
The 47-year-old had worked as an emergency responder at St. Barnabus Medical Center near Newark before he and the family moved west.
“I could see the twin towers on the skyline at night,” Soos said.
Soos tried to call old friends and colleagues, but the city’s telephone lines were jammed.
“I recognized friends’ vehicles with the police and ambulance (crews),” he said.
Soos’ current colleague, Richard Nichols, said he wanted to be there to help out. Moreover, since Sept. 11, people are voicing their appreciation for emergency services they’ve likely felt a long time, he said.
“People have always thanked us, but they’re just more vocal about it now,” Nichols said.
Johnston said that the added pat on the back is welcomed.
“I think the day-to-day things that firefighters do are somewhat taken for granted,” Johnston said. “We were brought to the forefront by 9-11. But that same day in that same city, there were fire calls in other boroughs of New York where firefighters were probably saving lives. But they weren’t on the news.”
Demands on local firefighters’ time are high. The force of 25 is paid $15 per hour on a call to cover a fire district of roughly 180 square miles. Calls mean time away from full-time jobs, and family.
When not on calls, there’s always the training.
“We’re held to the same standards as a part-time department as paid professionals with Denver Fire,” Johnston said. “When other guys are hunting and fishing, we’re down here training.”
Johnston, aside from firefighting, sits on the Craig City Council and works full-time in the planning department of Tri-State Generation and Transmission. It can all be a bit overwhelming, he conceded.
“There are weeks I wonder,” he said.
Still, he suggested he won’t be slowing down anytime soon. And one year on from Sept. 11, he wants folks to remember family lost.
“Never forget … how a little under 350 of my brothers
died that day.”
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