September 30, 2002
New York City ... one year later
by Mark Zabel, Woodinville Fire and Life Safety
On Sept. 10, 2002, five members of Woodinville Fire Department traveled to New York City to attend the funeral of Firefighter Peter Bielfeld of Ladder 42 in the Bronx and also the ceremonies at the World Trade Center site. For Battalion Chief Mark Emery and Lieutenant Dan Pippin (retired), it was their first trip since the attacks. Firefighters Ian D'Ambrosia, Paul Shindelar and myself had gone in November and December of last year to attend funerals.
Arriving at JFK at 8:30 a.m. we traveled via subway to the Bronx arriving just in time to get changed into our dress uniforms at the fire station and walk the two blocks to the church. There had been a memorial service for Firefighter Bielfeld on Nov. 3 of last year, however since that time 24 pieces of his body had been identified via DNA matching Ñ there are still approximately 20,000 pieces of human remains to be identified. There were over 1,000 uniformed personnel attending the service as well as Mayor Bloomberg, the Fire Chief and a representative from the Governor's office. Also speaking were Peter's Lieutenant and his father.
At the conclusion of the service, Peter's remains were taken from the church atop an antique fire truck followed by the FDNY Pipe and Drum band. All uniformed members saluted Peter's life as his coffin passed.
The sound of the bagpipes receding into the distance while playing "Amazing Grace" is something I will always remember. Once dismissed, everyone proceeded to the church basement for food and drink. Many FDNY members thanked us for showing our support by coming. We felt it was the least we could do.
On the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, the fire station Peter worked at was being rededicated after an extensive remodel. Peter, along with many others in the audience listened to FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge speak on the importance of living each day to its fullest, as we have no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring.
The following morning Father Judge, Peter and 341 other members of FDNY would lose their lives.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Peter had been off duty, however hearing of the attacks, he responded to Station 10-10 which is on the south side of the WTC complex. He borrowed some bunker gear and before proceeding across the street, took the time to write a brief note to his family. In his note he told his family, each by name, how much he loved them and how much they meant to him. He then left his wallet and keys in the locker, taped the note to the locker door and went to do his duty.
The FDNY firefighters knew of the risks that day and did not hesitate to do their job.
Prior to the collapses they successfully carried out the largest urban rescue in history, saving the lives of countless thousands. In my opinion, the term "Hero" needs to be reserved for people, such as Peter, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to others.
On the morning of the 11th, we awoke early to again get into our dress uniforms and join the processional that was enroute from the Bronx to the WTC site.
Throughout the night, five processionals (one from each borough) led by the FDNY Pipe and Drum Band were making their way through the city. We, along with hundreds of others, marched along the Hudson River toward the site. It was a beautiful morning, much like the one exactly one year earlier.
Upon arriving at the World Trade Center, the five of us proceeded down West Street and were invited by some NYPD officers to enter an area cordoned off in the middle of the street for the Mayor's guests.
While thousands of people were at the site that morning, there were relatively few in our area. From where we stood, the North Tower had been directly in front of us, while the Wintergarden (which is part of the World Financial Center) was to our backs. Also directly in front of us was the podium where the names of all souls lost were read.
During the final moment of silence at 10:29 a.m., all the fire trucks in the city and many of the ships in the river blew their horns for a full minute.
Simultaneously, all the church bells rang for a full minute. A gentleman standing next to us showed us photographs he had taken the day after the attacks from the very spot we were standing.
It is amazing how much work has occurred over the last year. Not only has the debris been removed, but also surrounding buildings have been repaired to their original condition.
After the ceremonies concluded, we took the last boat of the day to Liberty and Ellis islands. Lady Liberty still stands and means more to me now than ever.
We had a fantastic private tour of the Ellis Island facilities by Ranger Charles Walker. It reminded us of how many millions of people sought, and still seek, to come to America to enjoy its freedoms.
President Bush was speaking that evening from Ellis Island so all tourists had to be gone by 1:15 p.m. for security reasons.
Later in the afternoon we viewed the city from the Empire State Building. Even with the hole in the lower Manhattan skyline, it is still a truly amazing sight.
That evening we visited Squad 18 in Greenwich Village and spoke with the only surviving member of the eight people who responded that fateful morning. While there, a lady walking her dog stopped by to give $100 to the house fund. The people of New York really appreciate their firefighters and police officers.
On Thursday we were tourists. We started at Battery Park where "The Sphere" has now been placed. It is a piece of metal sculpture that used to be located between the Twin Towers and somehow survived.
On the evening of Sept. 11, 2002, an eternal flame was lit at the base of the Sphere. It will forever remind visitors to lower Manhattan what happened that September morning. By late afternoon we had attended the San Gennero festival in Little Italy, been to Rockefeller Center to observe the "Images From Ground Zero" exhibit and wound up at David Letterman's studio. It was a great day.
As we left JFK that evening, I thought about how nice everyone had been to us. We had been treated like visiting royalty to a city in which we were strangers. Even in a city that has gone through a year like none other, the best of human nature has prevailed.
Life goes on. Even though it will never be the same, New York is recovering and rebuilding.
People are going about their daily routines and finding happiness again. The city is filled with an energy that is unparalleled in our country. I urge everyone to get there at least once.