Milton Firefighters Met with Appreciation in New York After Sept. 11
Most members of the Milton Fire Department traveled to New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to attend line-of-duty funerals per the request of the FDNY.
The Brooklyn firehouse was crowded on a late fall morning in 2001 as the outgoing crew cooked and the incoming group joined them for breakfast. About eight firefighters from 220 miles way were offered to stay for the meal, but rather than intrude, tried to slip out.
The out-of-town firefighters had made good time on their travel that morning so they stopped at the fire station to change their clothes before attending yet another line-of-duty funeral after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
“What? Aren’t we good enough to have breakfast with?” an unknown firefighter from New York asked the group of strangers from Milton.
The sarcastic jab was enough to show the Massachusetts men that the offer wasn’t out of obligation, but rather, out of sincerity.
They chose to stay and partake in conversation and a meal with people they had never met, but shared a profession and a bond with.
The interaction Milton Fire Chief Jack Grant, who was a lieutenant at the time, and his fellow Milton firefighters experienced at that Brooklyn firehouse was characteristic of the exchanges they had with other members of the FDNY and New Yorkers in general as they attended numerous funerals in the months after the attacks.
“They put their own grieving aside to open up to outside people,” said Grant.
Following the funeral that day, the Milton contingent made their way to Ground Zero, which was still the site of a bustling clean-up and recovery effort. Due to security concerns, most visitors were turned away, but thanks to a tip from a group of Philadelphia firefighters they were able to get a guided tour.
The Milton firefighters paid a visit to the FDNY Officers Union office and met up with a Deputy Chief, who walked them around the site.
Grant found out later that the man who gave them a tour was one of the earliest responders after the attacks, but like many others they met, the deputy chief never indicated his close ties to the wreckage he showed them.
That day, Grant stood on the spot where the mighty Twin Towers once stood, but in the hours and days following their collapse, he thought he would be part of the rescue effort.
Driving back from a hockey game with fellow firefighters at Hingham’s Pilgrim Skating Arena on September 11, 2001, Grant heard the news on the radio. The ride back from Hingham was filled with confusion, as he tried to comprehend what he was hearing. At least one, possibly both, of the towers had fallen by the time Grant left the rink.
Upon arriving back in Milton, Grant, who was involved in the union, called the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts to see if they needed help manning phones.
He spoke with then-President Bob McCarthy, who was compiling a list of Massachusetts firefighters to help with the rescue, if called upon. Grant was given permission from Milton Chief Malcolm Larson, put together a travel bag and waited for the word.
The call never came to help with the rescue effort, but Grant signed up without a thought.
“I’m guessing every guy in the job would have done the same thing,” Grant said.
Within a few days of the attack, the FDNY made it clear they wanted to handle the rescue and recovery themselves, a move that didn’t surprise Grant.
“It’s their immediate brothers involved,” Grand said.
The New York City Fire Department did make a request for help. They asked that firefighters attend funerals to give those who died a proper send off.
“They were very concerned they weren’t going to be able to have proper services,” Grant recalled.
A website was set up with funeral details and people from around the country were able to help the FDNY with its request. Grant recalled that most of the Milton firefighters made it to at least one funeral. He attended somewhere between eight and 12 funerals .
Outside of the sheer number of services, Grant said the September 11 funerals were similar to other line-of-duty funerals he has attended.
Though no outside firefighters contributed to the recovery, Grant said he began to hear stories about unwanted “freelancers” working on the rubble, despite the fire department’s request. Eventually, members of the ironworkers union, who were asked to help, refused to work until the non-union volunteers left the site. The solidarity between the ironworkers and the firefighters in New York spilled over to firefighters from outside the city.
During one trip to New York City, a group of Milton firefighters stopped in a bar to use the restroom. When they came out, a round of drinks was lined up for them, courtesy of some local ironworkers. Knowing about their protest in honor of the FDNY’s wishes, the Milton firefighters accepted and reciprocated the gesture.
Ironworkers weren’t the only people in New York who expressed their appreciation to the Milton Fire Department members by buying a round.
On a rare overnight trip to attend funerals in New York, a group 14 to 16 Milton firefighters, were watching the World Series in restaurant. A man sent over a bucket of beers. Grant recalled that the group thanked the man, who ended up being a stockbroker, and instructed the waiter not to allow him to buy them anymore drinks.
The stockbroker ignored the request, paying for the group's entire tab and disappearing before they could protest, or thank him.
“The firefighters, the city, everybody, just had an appreciation for what was going on,” said Grant.
Though Grant and many others made numerous trips to New York and were greeted with gratitude and appreciation, the trips were made simply because it made sense.
“It was done because it was the right thing to do,” Grant said.