Wilton gathers to remember the day when ‘evil struck’
Fifteen years, almost to the hour of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about 100 firefighters, police officers, ambulance personnel, veterans, town officials, and citizens gathered at Wilton Fire Headquarters to remember those lost and their families. Among the speakers was John Sindel, a former Wiltonian who was at the World Trade Center that day. He recalled the thoughts and emotions he experienced as he attempted to escape the ill-fated building.
Led in procession to the music of the bagpipes played by Wilton Fire Apparatus Supervisor Ralph Nathanson, Wilton’s first responders marched in, then, Fire Lt. Bill Wilson sang the National Anthem.
Those assembled were welcomed by Fire Capt. Jim Blanchfield who reminded them “2,996 innocent people” lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C., and the fields of Shanksville, Pa. They included five men from Wilton: Edward T. Fergus, Peter C. Fry, John Henwood, John F. Iskyan, and Edward P. York. Their names are inscribed on a memorial plaque at the base of a flagpole at the firehouse.
Blanchfield also recalled the emergency responders who died — 71 police officers, 37 Port Authority officers, and 343 firefighters — “each giving up their lives in the singular, selfless effort to save others.
“Those who died are more than just memories,” he continued. “They are our friends, they are our neighbors, our moms and dads, sons and daughters, they are our brothers and sisters. This morning we thank all of you for keeping those individuals and their families in your hearts.”
In prayer, Fr. Reggie Norman of Our Lady of Fatima said “we are called to action to do as we did that day, to unify, to take care of each other, and most importantly to live as good citizens of this nation.”
First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice recalled on that day many brought their families together for comfort. But for five Wilton families “the circle of that family embrace was broken forever. We’re here as a community today to be that lost circle of embrace for those families. To say we remember your loved ones, we remember you and we support you.”
Following her remarks, Fire Lt. Bill Sampson and Dave Chaloux, president of Wilton Firefighters Local 2233, raised the American flag to half-staff to the strains of the bagpipe.
Fifteen years ago, Police Capt. John Lynch said, Americans defined terrorism “as something that happened in other countries. The average citizen gave little or no thought as they went about their daily lives. On Sept. 11, 2001, we discovered terrorism first-hand and quickly realized its devastating effect and the resulting ramifications.”
He added that on Sept. 3 this year, “we remembered the Madaras family and their son Nick on the anniversary of his death. Nick was killed serving his country in Iraq, doing his part to keep us safe.”
Robert Storck of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps was a sixth-grader at boarding school on West 58th Street in Manhattan.
“That morning, I’ll never forget, the fire truck went out. Engine 23, the Lion’s Den. They were across the street from us. None of those brave men ever returned.”
When he went to school, he and his fellow students could not find their teachers. Looking around, they found them in the school rec room watching TV. “When we asked what was going on, none of them could really explain it to us.”
Later, the school chaplain told them “evil had struck New York.” They didn’t understand, he said, until a friend’s father, who was an organist at Trinity Church on Wall Street walked from there to the school on 58th Street “covered in ash.”
That day, he said, is what spurred him to volunteer. Since then, he got his EMT certification and Firefighter 1. “I knew I wanted to be in emergency services. I knew I wanted to be like the 343 that served so bravely, not all of whom were firefighters. Some were paramedics, some were EMTs.”
Fire Chief Ronald Kanterman spoke of the rebirth of lower Manhattan with new hotels, and restaurants, three towers built, and hundreds of thousands of private-sector workers. “To me, this is a statement of resolve on the part of Americans,” he said.
John Sindel, formerly of Wilton, said when he thinks of 9/11 he actually thinks of a few days earlier, Aug. 29, 2001. “That’s the day I got a new job. I went from whatever title I had to a first-time dad,” he said introducing his daughter Samantha, a sophomore in high school.
Explaining he is in sales, Sindel visited the World Trade Center on business on Sept. 11. He was supposed to be on the upper 80s or lower 90s, but that conference room was taken so he was assigned to the 63rd floor of the North Tower. He was waiting to begin a presentation when there was “this massive explosion. …the air got sucked out of the room.”
Feeling the building roll, he left everything behind him and ran for the stairs. Looking out the windows he saw “everything coming down from above, cement, debris, smoke, fire, it was just hell on earth.”
At the fire escape “I looked over my shoulder and saw 63 and had a really bad feeling.” He was able to power down the stairs, but after 20 floors “there were thousands and thousands of people inside that stairwell and at that point you realize it’s step, step, and that’s when you start thinking and thinking is not your best friend.”
A few minutes later the next plane hit and he heard it reverberate through the stairwell.
“No one’s moving, nowhere to go” with burning eyes and coughing on fumes, he was resigned to dying in the stairwell.
“Around the 16th floor I heard a message I will never, ever forget. Make room, they’re coming up. Who? Who in their right mind would be coming up? About a minute later I see people leaning back making room on the inside and there’s the first gentleman, the first firefighter from Rescue 1. I saw 11 of these firefighters from Rescue 1 that day.”
At this point, Sindel had to pause to compose himself.
“When I saw that first firefighter, I went from knowing that we were going to die to knowing that we were going to live.
“This man was not wearing a mask, the amount of equipment he was wearing, the look in his eyes, the look of determination … and everybody knew what it meant when you saw this first responder.
“There was thousands and thousands and thousands of people there that day and there’s two types of people — the ones escaping and the ones going in to help the people trying to escape.
“I love all these people,” he said. “You first responders are my heroes.”
His biggest fear that day, he said, was “this little girl right here would not remember her dad.”