Monday, June 1, 2009

Change in assignment

When I woke up this morning, I intended to get up and write the second installment of “Should I stay or should I go?” As I sat down at the keyboard, I looked up and saw the blog that I read last night just before going to bed.

It was written by an airline pilot and author named Alan Cockrell, who publishes a blog titled Decision Height. His latest post is about a flight he made before Sept. 11, 2001, when it appears that his flight was used as an intel gathering mission by potential terrorists.

As I read his post again this morning, it picked a few scabs and got the juices flowing toward another subject. In the fire service, we would call this a change in assignment. The pilot world might call it a go-around.

I was on duty the morning September 11, 2001. I was asleep at in the senior captain’s dorm when Jimmy, the engine company captain, knocked on my door and told me that a plane had hit the world trade center.

I tried to clear my head and assess the information that was just given me.

“Was it a big jet or a small plane?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like it was pretty big”

“Is it clear or is it foggy?”

“It’s clear.” “Turn on the T.V. it’s on all the channels”

I staggered out of bed and turned on the T.V. Instantly, the screen was filled the image of the burning tower. What immediately struck me was, how clear the sky was and how much smoke was coming from the tower.

“Wow, FDNY is going to have their hands full with this one”, I thought. I also began thinking about how this could have happened. Was there a software glitch in an air traffic control system that vectored the aircraft off course or altitude? Was it pilot error? What the hell?

The picture got a little clearer a minute or two later when Jimmy and I watched the second plane strike the tower. It took a few seconds to realize that we weren’t just watching video of a plane hitting a tower, but one of a plane hitting a tower standing next to an already burning tower. The last piece of the puzzle was in place, the picture was complete. We now knew how the event occurred. Why it occurred was not relevant at that point. The course of our lives and that of our nation was changed in an instant.

We continued to monitor the news as we prepared to go off duty. As I watched the burning towers, I felt that if there was one fire department in the U.S. that could put those towers out, it was FDNY.

I stuck around the station for a little while after shift change and watched both towers fall. News of events at the pentagon began to appear on the screen and eventually the events in the sky over Pennsylvania became known. Rumors, fear and theories filled airwaves as well as images of the unfolding disaster.

The images of that morning filled my head with all sorts of thoughts and trepidations. I could probably fill a small flash drive with the thoughts and emotions that occurred in the following months and years. I am not going to bore you with most of them, but will share one or two of the big ones.

September 11, 2001 changed the way I view my job. For the first time ever, I felt vulnerable and threatened by the nature of my work. I have had close calls before, had felt scared before, but I never felt vulnerable. I had to examine my mortality from a professional standpoint and apply it to the way I do business.

The commonality of the human condition also became apparent. Everyone who perished in those events woke up, peed, ate, and went about their day, just as they always did. Whether they were a flight attendant, a building engineer, a stockbroker, soldier, sales rep, cop or firefighter, it didn’t matter. They started their day with the intent of doing their thing to keep the wolves from their door. A whole bunch of them didn’t make it home that night.

The rules of hijacking changed. Before September 11, 2001 if your flight was hijacked, the odds were that you would fly to some awful location, spend an undetermined amount of time in a sweltering aluminum tube with a bunch of anxious strangers and horrible hygienic conditions. The heroes of UA flight 93 were the first to realize this new hijacking rule, that you likely would be killed, and forced a second change in the hijacking rules. The second change of rules within a few hours. The second rule change states that you fight and to the death if necessary. If you don't the outcome will be far far worse for far more people. I don’t think that passengers will stand by and allow their aircraft to be hijacked without a fight anymore. I worry about freight carriers though. Boxes can’t fight back.

The course of this nation was changed as a result of the events of that day. We will never know what the world would have been like had the attacks not occurred, but we know what has happened since. When you look at all of the reactions to the events of that day, the economic and emotional cost is staggering. The war, increased security programs and procedures, response preparedness, economic fallout, it goes on and on. How much of the economic turmoil that we have today can be linked to that day?

To the conspiracy theorists who say that the events of that day were deliberate acts by the government, that the towers were brought down by bombs, that the plane never flew into the pentagon – Bullshit. Incompetence, poor intel, coordination and communication maybe. A conspiracy of thousands with a planned implosion no way. ‘Nuff said about that.

You will notice that I did not use the term 9/11 in this post. I hate that term, it demeans the significance of the date. Much like the term x-mas demeans Christmas, 9/11 reduces that tragic date to the same number that people use to call an ambulance for a cold or a tummy ache. I avoid using it.

Thanks for reading

Joe, just another schmoe, keeping the wolves from the door.

No comments:

Post a Comment