Like so many people around the world, Bob Beckett remembers what he was doing the exact moment two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre on 9/11.
Beckett, who was Langford’s fire chief at the time, woke up like every other day, had his morning coffee, and turned on the news for a couple of minutes before heading out to the fire hall on Peatt Road.
There, sitting alongside local dispatchers and millions of other viewers around the world, Beckett watched as the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground, in what has become known as the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
“For me, it wasn’t about the collapse of the building, it was immediately recognizing that hundreds of firefighters would be killed,” said Beckett on the 17th anniversary of the attack on Tuesday. “That was a blow to the stomach.”
Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on 9/11, including many first responders.
The day after, Mayor Stew Young, Beckett and Staff. Sgt. Bruce Brown with the West Shore RCMP agreed to travel to New York as a show of support.
“We get so many terrorist acts now, but that was the first time really that we had seen it happen on North American soil at a level like that … I was in shock with what was happening on the TVs,” said Young, adding the trip was one of the most important things he’s done during his time as mayor.
“It was more of just trying to make sure we were supporting our American friends, and the people on the planes were not just Americans, there were Canadians as well.”
They also brought a “significant” monetary donation, which went towards an education bursary for children of deceased firefighters, as well as letters and drawings made by local elementary school children.
Only four days after the attacks, the trio boarded a boat from New Jersey that took them to Ground Zero alongside hundreds of family members of the first responders who lost their lives while trying to save others. They stood somberly next to children – some too young to understand what was going on – who clutched teddy bears, notes and flowers, which they later laid at the site.
Stepping off the boat, they witnessed a sight unlike anything they had seen before.
Fires were still burning days after the attack, pieces of paper continued to float from office buildings and rubble stretched as far as the eye could see. The smell of smoke still clouded the air.
“It was an honour to be there. The enormity of it struck me. It’s hard to grasp how huge an area that it encompassed, not just the two buildings that fell down, but also the surrounding buildings that were partially destroyed,” Brown said.
“It’s just the sheer devastation. There was a huge hole in the ground that the World Trade Centre was, pancaked down into almost nothing … It just seemed unreal.”
The trio spent five days in New York, attending funerals for other first responders, among other things.
While the attack took place nearly two decades ago, the memories have stayed with them. If Brown watches a show or movie that depicts New York, it transports him back to the scene, carnage and emotions of that day.
Reliving those memories on the anniversary of the attacks are also a way to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice and encourage people to work towards a more peaceful future.
“We need to recognize the sacrifice that they made. There’s workplace injuries and deaths every year. These folks were walking up the stairwells attempting to rescue and suppress the fire. They knew what they were doing and what they were entering,” Beckett said. “I owe it to them to recognize that ultimate sacrifice they made.”
For Beckett the events of 9/11 were a catalyst to help others as well. It kicked off years of humanitarian work in places such as Haiti, Afghanistan and Pakistan to sow seeds of hope rather than fear.
“We have to start to see that we’re all one family and we have a responsibility of helping that global community, otherwise we will continue to have the strife that we see,” he said. “Never forget that we need to continue to strive towards global peace”