I will never forget how, as the evening of September 11, 2001 fell like a shroud, I went outdoors with my children, down to the courtyard where we could be with other families who had come through that devastating day in the history of the city. My son and his friends played wiffle ball, as overhead, fighter jets patrolled the otherwise empty skies. The rising count of all the firefighters lost when the Twin Towers had crumbled that morning was too much to bear, I couldn't take it in, not until the moment when my son, then 9, left his game and came over to where I sat on a bench. He stood in front of me, his eyes searching. "Are you okay?" I asked him. A silly question. None of us was remotely okay. He didn't answer my query. Instead, he said solemnly, "A lot of heroes died today." I put my arms around him and held on.
A few years later, this was his college essay.
Intense heat, objects melting at 500o Fahrenheit, danger around every bend. Wait. Over there, that silhouette in the corner. Could it be? Yes, it is a person. The heavy sound of my breath as I run hard, the person over my shoulders. The sweet, cold air of the outside. Finally, safety. This is what I imagine my future will be.
The first stirring of my desire to fight the destructive force of fire came on September 11, 2001. That day dawned bright blue. Against the clear sky, two planes struck the World Trade Center. Only three hours later, the buildings lay in a heap of scorched rubble on the ground. I was nine years old when this happened. I could barely understand the gravity of the situation that faced our nation. Afterwards, people would ask, “How did 9/11 affect you?” I would always shrug and say, “I don’t know.” For a long time, I thought the events had nothing to do with me. I was wrong: 9/11 had left its mark on me, but it remained deep inside, waiting to be uncovered five years later.
By the time I was a freshman in high school, all those lives lost in the blaze of that day had finally brought me to my passion: I wanted to be one of New York’s Bravest, part of the FDNY. At first, I figured I was just going through a phase and I would outgrow it in a couple months. I thought I was just caught up in the glory. Everyone wants to be a hero. All those firefighters running into a building to save people they did not know. But in my mind, I kept rewriting the story: The structures hold. The heroes and the people make it out alive.
In my sophomore year, a friend told me about the FDNY Explorers program. I was instantly in love with the possibilities! I joined the program, which met every Wednesday afternoon for four hours at a firehouse in the Bronx. I got to wear the protective gear, handle the equipment, study how fires move. I learned the techniques of search and rescue, and how to fit through small spaces with bulky equipment and navigate blind in a steam-filled room.
Firefighting is still my passion. Already it has unlocked traits in me I did not know I possessed: discipline, courage, curiosity, teamwork, mastery of fear. I believe firefighting is my calling. I have always been fascinated with the property of fire and how it can both destroy objects, yet also purify some of the most precious metals. As a future firefighter, whether on the front lines or in an emergency room, I know I might not be able to save everyone. That is my true concern. Although I know it is impossible for me to help every single person in trouble, it still scares me that I’ll let a single person go. What overpowers this fear is the belief that I will be able to reach that one woman, that one child, that one old man who needs me because everything around them is burning down.
Tonight, my son begins training as an EMT. I asked for and received his permission to post his essay in honor of the day.