A reflection of 9/11 from San Antonio Firefighter Richard Baring, Station 51, as told to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association
Every year, for the last 15 years, people in the United States ask a question.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
The responses are varied, of course, depending on where you were living and how old you were. But although Ground Zero is about 1,800 miles away from San Antonio, the effects of that horrific day are still felt and remembered.
That's especially true for first responders here in South Texas. One of those first responders is Richard Baring, a 30 year veteran of the San Antonio Fire Department who has spent 23 years with the Technical Rescue Team and is a member of Texas Task Force 1. He spoke with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association about where he was on 9/11 and what he was called to do in the days following.
On September 11, 2001, I was at a class, at the Texas A&M Engineering and Extension Service (TEEX), for what we called structural collapse class. I was going to be an instructor for it and be certified. The guys teaching the class were from California or New Jersey. In their discipline, they were the instructors that teach instructors. It happened to be our first class. All of a sudden, their pagers were going off -- this is when people had pagers -- saying a plane had hit the towers. They were getting more and more pages, saying that another one had hit it. So, we took a break. Eventually the class was canceled.
That day, they brought us together at TEEX and it was decided Texas Task Force 1 was going to be deployed. We’d be put in to help. But New York City was so large. They had a lot of resources in place already, and it actually took a while until they accepted help. We ended up staying at TEEX for the next five days.
There was a lot of unknown. It was a chaotic thing.
Everyone knew the attacks were so unbelievable and large. So that’s why they kept us back. For the first day or two, they shut down all the flights. They wanted nothing in the sky. But we eventually worked our way there. We were bused into Austin, then flew to New Jersey. Finally, we made it to New York, a week after the attacks. We would be there for the next week.
In the days leading up to us getting there and during our experience, for our country, for everyone, everything felt unnerving. You didn’t know anything. You had concern for your family, your friends, and your well being.
Everyone was so amped up, but we didn’t just start working. There was so much equipment we had to bring up there. We got there, established an area at the Javits Center -- it would be like our Henry B. Gonzalez center -- that’s where all of the FEMA teams were staying. It was the base of our operations and our bunk house. We stayed and ate there. We set up a bed area for the day shift and night shift. We worked the night shift. Shortly after, we were sleeping during the day.
We eventually were bused down to Ground Zero. You got your first take of things. It was hard to get assigned to tasks. They had a large command system going on. We were just a spoke in the wheel, just a little part, coming in to assist.
We were waiting for an assignment for what seemed like forever. We were at standby. But sometime during the night, we got to cutting some of the large steel beams.
We worked with steelworkers and construction workers. We used their cutting and torch tools. Large cranes picked up the steel and moved them.
We did this for seven days.
. . .
Lots of teams rotated in. New York handled a lot. They were always there. Everyone realized this was going to be a longer event. There were a lot of volunteers. There were Hollywood figures working food trucks.
We had a job to do. It’s what we were trained to do. But you always wanted to do more.
When we got back, we met people who just wanted to be a part of something. Take a collection of something, just to help New York.
Back then, I was much younger. Then, I didn’t see that everybody has a part to do. I think as I’ve gotten older, you realize we all have a job. The little organizational stuff is intertwined with the big things. Now, I teach some aspects of that.
We cut these beams, that came from this large building. We cut them into sections. But sometimes the beams took an hour or more. You had to cut it from both sides. Then the cranes took them.
Working side by side with the other workers, it finally felt like we accomplished something.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all of those who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001, attacks.